Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Almond Handling

I really do wish I brought a camera, but today I brought a few students to an almond orchard and handling factory near Ripon, CA. We spent about two and a half hours ogling at monstrous, loud machines designed basically to separate the almonds from rocks and twigs, then from hulls and shells, and then grade, etc. It dawns on me only after that all of this was only necessary because the nuts are shaken violently from the tree with a truck, that grabs them by the trunk with huge arms and drops them into the dirt. (Each of us got to shake a tree with the truck, was was serious fun - earthquake in sensurround) And then another truck needs to rake them into neat winrows, then another scoop them up, then another take them away. As all this was happeneing I was envisioning people actually knocking the almonds down with sticks, cleaning them on the spot and needing no machinery. Apparently it was done this way not long ago, on some of the same trees. But then there wasn't a global market, and the best nuts didn't go to Japan. I don't think it was immediately obvious to the student what his had to do with food history, but I hope it will sink in by the next class.

Ok, So in the meantime, Please leave comments! Either no one is reading this, or you're not finding my rants stimulating, in which case tell me what you'ld like to hear!



andrew said...

Well I tried to post a comment and typed it all out, with devastating wit and insightful wisdom...but then when I went to sigh in to Google (#$^!) and got through with their vetting folderol, it reset to a blank screen.

The gist of the comment was: for another perspective on the robots making human labor redundant, read (or re-read) Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, PLAYER PIANO. It's a great read and positively prescient.

sweetscarlet said...

No, we're out here and reading! At least I am.

I knocked down some of the abundant almonds on my trees in the back yard this year and here are my thoughts.

Mom, Blaise, a stick and yours truly are not very efficient (though B had a great time thwhacking the branches.)

I figure we had about seventy pounds of unhusked product before sorting by hand, a process which took two and one half hours.

The almonds in shell actually took about a week to dry properly indoors.

If I shelled them all right now, I think I would have about two pounds of almonds.

Unlike almost everything else I have tried to cook or produce by hand, there is virtually no difference between these almonds and good fresh ones from the store.

I really don't appreciate the hand to hand contact with the little spiders who populate my almond trees.

All in all, an interesting experience but not worth it. Sadly. I know why they developed the machines.

Teceangl Bach said...

Oh, how I envy you, but up here in the PNW almonds won't grow. I have enough fun hand-blanching the nuts (use a big bowl with sloping sides and you'll spend as much time chasing them after they leap out the other side as you do popping them from their skins, or more). I would, however, love to get some freshly knocked down product to play with. Then again, I've got lots of friends as crazy as I am who would come over and play with me.

Ken, while we're on the subject of almonds, what's your favorite almond milk recipe? And what do you think of all the 'crunchy' ones perpetrated where the product isn't strained before being used? That always bothers me on a few levels. (You know I'm talking pre-1600, of course, or really pre-1650 since we can assume recipes were in use for awhile before being recorded). I don't think almond milk recipes were much recorded, though. It's kind of like modern folks writing down how they make coffee.

- Teceangl

Ken Albala said...

Sweetscarlet, what an enchanting moniker. And so too is Teceangl. Sounds sort of like a teasing angel. Now there's a Halloween costume for you. Mmm.

Almond Milk: I have to admit, I've done it many ways with mixed results. I don't mind the quick blender version if it's going into another dish, and that works wonderfully with pine nuts, as for a cold white gazpacho. But since I'm such a stickler for original procedures with historic recipes, what I prefer to do is take blanched almonds, and pound them in a mortar. I've got a huge stone one that can hold a few pounds. Add hot water bit by bit, and keep pounding for about an hour (yes), adding more water until you have a fairly smooth milky liquid. Then I pour this into a cheesecloth lined strainer, in lieu of a horsehair sieve, set in a wire mesh collander all suspended over a bowl, and I let it drip. Takes a few hours. And you have almond milk ready to go. I've seen other recipes that call for soaking the almonds and then pounding, or pounding and soaking, but I haven't noticed much of a difference.

But you're both right, the labor, unless you have some kitchen serfs, is back-breaking! Literally.


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