Go Nuts with Almonds!
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.