LIKE a bud bursting on a winter twig, a strange word has sprung from dormancy and entered my lexicon: drupe. You may have been familiar with this word since childhood, even knowingly engaged in plucking a variety of drupes from trees. But it’s a new word for me. Almonds aren’t nuts – they are drupes, I have discovered. I can’t say my world has been shattered by this revelation, but its axis has shifted a couple of degrees . . .
Nuts are nuts, but drupes are fruits with a thin outer skin, soft pulpy flesh and a hard centre that encloses a seed. Apricots, plums and cherries are drupes. So are almonds, it appears – a fact I became aware of while planting an almond tree a couple of days ago.
I feel cheated because I liked the notion of planting a little nut tree in Spain (“the king of Spain’s daughter”, and all that). In fact, I haven’t felt so cheated since I bought four tickets to see Lonnie Donegan in Newcastle, three days before he died in a Peterborough hotel room. Got my money back, mind.
The revelation has spurred a flurry of research, on my part, into nut world – or non-nut world, as I should call it; perhaps even fake-nut world or alternative-nut world. Coconuts aren’t nuts, they are drupes. Brazil nuts aren’t nuts, they are seeds contained in a pod. Walnuts aren’t nuts either; they are drupes. Cashew nuts are the seeds of the cashew drupe. Peanuts are a type of pea that grows underground. Quite where conkers fit in is a mystery as yet unsolved.
Where this leaves the Christmas nut bowl I dare not say. My investigation has revealed that only hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts are true nuts. Meanwhile, almond trees are blossoming all over Andalucia, so there will be a bumper drupe crop this year. Better get the drupe-crackers out. I’ll leave you with some pretty pictures.