The almond pickers

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THE almond pickers rise before the sun. From white-walled houses tucked beneath trees they head into their groves before the milky luminescence of dawn gives form to the Alpujarra hills. They are busy people in a tranquil landscape. In the velvet shadows, the almond pickers are part of the landscape . . .

On my early-morning run I hear them beating the trees with long poles. They have spread nets on the ground to catch the almonds as they fall. They will dry them for a couple of days in a sunny courtyard, then bag them up to sell or store for winter.

I pass a group of almond pickers in the half-light – mostly men in stripy shirts and stout women of a certain age with a few barking dogs. They are adept at their labours, eyes squinting into a brightening sky as their sticks rasp high branches.

Further along the stony track there is more evidence of almond picking – a moped leaning against a tree; two trucks parked in a hollow; a distant burst of laughter and voices beneath the leafy canopy; more barking of dogs; the thwack of poles in foliage.

And I think: I’d like to be an almond picker – rising before the sun; trudging purposefully across a small plot of inherited land with my family about me; spreading nets upon the dry earth as the first rays of morning filter through leaves; standing in the shadows, like these weathered fellows, with a cigarette trapped between tight lips as I flay the branches – nuts and dry husks falling about my feet.

almonds 2 almonds 3 almonds 4Later, I gather some almonds from the terraces above the house we are renting and smash them open with a two-pound shipyard hammer. As I sit chewing contentedly, I wonder why it is that almonds are always the last nuts to be finished off at Christmas. Almonds are invariably left in the bottom of the bowl after the peanuts, hazelnuts and walnuts have been cracked and consumed. Even those awkward Brazil nuts disappear before the almonds.

Another of life’s great mysteries. Sometimes an enquiring mind really can be a burden.

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15 thoughts on “The almond pickers

  1. Almonds are always left till last as they’re the hardest to crack. Also, when your teeth are as soft as mine are nowadays, you can’t eat them when you’ve shelled them either (unless they’ve been processed and ‘flaked’ 😦

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    1. Hi Carol. My neighbour has just lent me a machine which cracks them. It looks like a gigantic stapler. Unfortunately, it doesn’t chew them for you as well. I’ll have to work on that one.
      Alen

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  2. I don’t eat nuts in any partcular order, but I like a good almond amongst the woodier flavours of the brazils and hazelnuts.

    It sounds an idyllic lifestyle: owning a smallholding, working on the almonds and then in the afternoon tending to oranges, making fruit juice and marmalade. A cornucopia of fruit trees and other edibles could keep you busy year round.

    And the description of the almond gatherers going to work reminded me of some of the blog posts in England in which you talked about miners heading out to the hills, in all weathers on long days. Big difference between coal and almonds though.

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    1. I agree with you there, Chris – big difference between coal and almonds. Picking almonds is much more therapeutic, plus you can’t eat coal – although my grandfather used to feed coal to his pigs during the war and they didn’t complain.
      Our goal out here is to buy some sort of smallholding and use our allotment skills to become more or less self-sufficient. It’s becoming clear that this is going to be a long-term rather than a short-term programme.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Your introduction is beautiful written.
    I understand your desire for the simple life. It is very soothing and makes good sense.
    I eat ‘tons’ of almonds every day, but they are cracked so I do not need a hammer. I can read on my almond bag that the selection of trees and varieties ensures that the tonsils get the more aromatic flavour that is characteristic for almonds from the Mediterranean countries.
    The organic is more aromatic than the conventionally grown, but I haven’t checked where conventionally grown almonds come from.
    Were your newly harvested almonds juicy and tasty?

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    1. Hi Hanna. Yes, they were very nice. I’ve discovered that if you harvest them early, then the nuts are yellow and softer. Now, at the end of the season, they are brown and crunchy, but great for chewing and when added to stews and casseroles.
      Apparently, almonds are mass produced in California, where machines drive between the rows of trees and shake the nuts from the branches. It’s more fun with a big stick.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. I’d never heard of almond pickers, Alan – it all sounds like a Van Gogh-style landscape with intense colours and shadows. I’m not really all that keen on almonds myself – I always reckon there’s armour plating for a reason (same goes for lobsters). Love your photos, though!

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    1. Some things come in little packages and are worth the hassle, Jo. And picking almonds is easier than digging potatoes. I’m with you on the lobster thing, though – too much fiddling about, and the same with crab claws.
      All the best, Alen

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