Go Nuts with Almonds!
Grow Almonds In Your Garden
There’s nothing so satisfying as eating foods grown in your own backyard. But when it comes to harvesting, nut trees take home the blue ribbon for “most time consuming.” Unlike your apples that you can eat right off the tree, almonds require some time to prepare. But the effort is well worth it, especially when you turn them into homemade almond butter and other easy gourmet goodies.
Almonds on the tree look nothing like almonds in the grocery store. A relative of the peach, the unprocessed almond fruit looks rather like a small, fuzzy green peach. This fuzzy outer layer is called the “husk.” The hard shell is the next layer that will need removed before eating. The “nut” is actually the seed of this odd looking fruit (and is biologically not a nut at all!) It’s time to harvest your almonds when at least 75% of the fruits have cracked open to reveal the seed inside. The first to crack will be at the top of the tree, and the last on the lower branches.
Don’t wait until they’ve all cracked, or they might be eaten by birds and squirrels, or infested with insects. To remove the nuts, you will need to shake the branches, but be sure to wear a helmet and eye protection so you are not injured by falling nuts!
Next you’ll need to gather up your harvest for drying. This is fastest if you have planned ahead and laid out tarps or blankets under your tree before shaking. Take your harvest to a comfortable work area so you can remove the husks. Some of the husks may already be falling off the shell, making your job a little bit faster. The remaining husks should come away easily.
If you have a lot of trees, you may want to invest in a mechanical de-husker.
If you are hungry, you can shell a few at this point and eat them. However, they will not be as crunchy as you are used to, as their moisture content is still too high for storage. To prepare them, spread the in-shell almonds in a single layer in a warm, sunny place. You might want to keep them on top of a tarp, so that you can quickly move them under shelter if a storm threatens to get your harvest wet.
It’s also a good idea to cover them with bird netting or other protection from birds and squirrels that might steal the nuts. Leave the nuts to dry for a few days. You’ll know when they are ready when they rattle in their shells. You can also test some by removing the shell and snapping the nut in half. It should snap like a store-bought nut, and not be flexible. Don't rush this step - they must be adequately dried in order to be safely stored.
Once they are dry, you can shell them all right away to minimize storage space requirements and for convenience in the kitchen later, or you can store them in the shell. Keep them in a dry, cool place to keep them from becoming moldy or rancid, and protect them from rodents, insects and other pests. Keeping them sealed also prevents them from absorbing odors from the environment. Properly dehydrated almonds can be stored for 8 months at room temperature and a year or more in a refrigerator or freezer.
Go Nuts in the Kitchen
With a mature tree yielding up to 50 pounds of almonds per year, that’s a lot of nuts to eat! Here are some easy ways to use your harvest.
Many recipes call for blanched almonds, and it’s easy to do this at home. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop your almonds in the boiling water for a few seconds, and remove. The skins will easily peel off, leaving you with blanched almonds, ready to use!
This can be made with raw, roasted, or blanched almonds. To roast, spread almonds on a baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes at 375 degrees. They should be a deep brown, but be careful not to burn them. Or to blanche, follow instructions above. Put the almonds in a food processor, and grind until they are look like coarse flour. Do not over-grind, or it will begin to clump and become almond butter…
This can be made with raw or roasted almonds. Blanched almonds can be used, but are less nutritious and make a very pale colored butter. Put the raw or roasted almonds in a food processor, and grind until they become smooth and creamy. Add a pinch of salt if desired. If you like it a little more creamy or sweet, add a touch of coconut oil and/or honey to achieve your favorite flavor and consistency.
Soak one cup of almonds in water for at least 12 hours and up to 2 days, with ½ tsp salt. Longer soaking will make creamier milk. Drain and rinse. Put almonds in blender with 2 to 4 cups water (less water makes a richer tasting milk). Do not overfill, as the mixture will expand a bit during blending. Blend several minutes until smooth and creamy. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth. Serve as-is, or blend again with a vanilla bean, dates, honey, stevia extract or other flavoring. The strained-off almond pulp can be dehydrated in a low-heat oven and ground into almond flour.
There are many, many recipes for nut cheeses. These are a great source of protein, and can be just as delicious as dairy cheese. They can typically be substituted in any recipe that calls for the equivalent “regular” cheese. Here’s a super easy recipe to start with, for almond ricotta. Blanche 2 cups of almonds. Soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Put almonds in a blender with 1 cup water. Blend at high speed until smooth, with no large chunks remaining. Place a fine mesh colander over a bowl and line with cheesecloth. Pour the almond puree in it, and let drain for 8 hours at room temperature. Cover with a cloth to keep out dust and bugs. Use in place of dairy ricotta in any recipe. It can also be flavored with herbs for a delicious spread.
For more information on almonds, see our Growing Guide.