Although summer here on our glorious island is far from over, the seasons of Mallorca are swiftly moving forward, with the heat of August thankfully giving way to a milder, less scorchio, and more comfortable September.
But you don’t really need a calendar to tell you which month or season we are in. Generally, you can tell by just looking around at village life and taking note of what your Mallorcan neighbours are up to.
Other Half and I consider ourselves very lucky to be living here in Mancor de la Vall, a quiet, picturesque village nestling sleepily on the slopes of the Tramuntana Mountain range, just north of the island. A little off the beaten track, Mancor de la Vall is not your typical tourist destination, and apart from the cyclists who have this uncanny knack of seeking out all the best island locations, our village remains favourably, an island within an island.
Peaceful and quiet it may be, but the inhabitants are far from retired. Living here is a cultural education, offering the continued opportunity to observe local traditions and learn even more about the Mallorcan way of life.
Currently, we are woken most mornings by a gentle tapping outside our sun-kissed windows. It’s not an uber friendly woodpecker, or indeed an enthusiastic builder, as ‘workmen’ unfortunately start much earlier. It’s our lovely Mallorcan neighbour who is up with the lark, and outside, taking advantage of the coolest hours, cracking his nuts!
Yes! It’s almond season! And bands of enthusiastic beaters are out in the fields addressing their annual harvest.
The almond tree is the first of Mallorca’s deciduous trees to flower, usually late January into February, when the island is famously covered with an unbelievable blanket of pink and white blossoms. Visitors travel from far and wide to witness and photograph ‘the Mallorcan snow’, for that is exactly what it looks like when the island’s almond trees throw out their annual blooms. It’s absolutely stunning, and on a close par with the more celebrated cherry blossom season in Japan.
Keeping with local tradition, many almond groves, albeit the smaller ones, are still harvested using the original age old methods, and it is quite common to see aged farmers along with their families, whacking the laden branches with long wooden poles, collecting the almonds which tumble into canvas tarpaulins and special nets laid at their feet below the ripened trees.
There is also an incredible harvesting machine out and about, which looks like something from the glossy pages of a Marvel comic book.
Basically it’s a tractor with a metal clamping hand at the front which grabs the tree by the throat of its quivering trunk. Then, two bat-like wings circle and caress the trunk, collecting the almonds as the mechanical hand shakes the living daylights out of its victim. All the nuts collected by the wings are dispatched into the tractor’s storage chamber and eventually deposited neatly into sacks.
Generally, the collected almonds are taken to the ‘cooperativa’ where the shells are mechanically cracked and returned in sacks to the harvester. It is then up to the individual to pick through the shattered shells and remove the sweet, edible kernels hidden within. Our Mallorcan neighbour by-passes the co-op option, and does the ‘cracking’, even more traditionally by hand.
It’s a long, tiresome job. And he sits, patiently cracking each individual nut open on an upturned log with a miniature hammer. It’s a seemingly endless task yet marks the hopeful arrival of cooler climes with the tap, tap, tap of a seasonal change.
Cracked almond kernels in their raw state can be brought at local markets, and are often traded or given as gifts. But they are still a far cry from being ready to eat! Once the almonds have been painstakingly removed from their shells they have to be blanched in boiling water to remove the tough, outer skins.
The blanched skins are piping hot and also red in colour, so expect all fingers to be dutifully dyed and sensitive after sorting through a sizeable batch. At this stage in the proceedings, any almond enthusiast would now have several loaded trays which are ready to be baked in a hot oven to dry out. Yes, in real time you have only just soaked them, but the drying process is a vital part of the exercise! The almonds are ready after about ten minutes when the oval jewels are lightly golden, and can now be cooled completely and stored in jars ready for eating.
You can also take almonds, prepared to this stage, and quickly fry handfuls in a little olive oil for a few seconds along with a sprinkling of salt. Or you can spice up your nuts with a light dusting of curry powder.
Alternatively, you can buy a packet at the supermarket but it’s not quite the same, is it? Knowing that you have orchestrated the entire almond event yourself is very rewarding. And following something as daunting as a nut harvest, from originally knocking them senseless out of the branches to eating them as a snack with drinks, kind of leaves you with a real sense of achievement.
It’s a local tradition that’s well worth preserving, and in a health conscious world of organic excellence, a worthy challenge to orchestrate!
Harvested almonds have many other uses, and are not just eaten in their pure form as a classic ’pickie’ with a refreshing drink. They can also be ground and used in deserts and pastries, along with providing the main ingredient for the famous Mallorcan almond cake. They can be incorporated into ice cream and turned into an almond-milk drink ( leche de almendras ).
They are also traditionally coated with a cloying sugar toffee and turned into a veneer challenging, almond brittle. Turrón is another confection, an almond based nougat which comes in various degrees of texture from a softly subtle chew to a noisier, denture crunching crisp.
Absolutely nothing goes to waste with the ubiquitous almond tree. The pruned wood is burnt on winter fires along with the remnants of discarded shells, filling the air of our coming winter season with the unmistakable crackle and unique aroma that is Mallorca.
Even the fallen leaves and small, tender twigs are gathered and used as a change of fodder for sheep during the winter months.
Who would have thought that a commercial, chocolate covered almond would have endured such a journey to reach perfection? Or a collaboration of chocolate and almonds could make such a delicious desert!
Rich Almond Chocolate Cake
- 250g plain chocolate
- 175g butter
- 125g castor sugar
- 200g ground almonds
- 4 eggs, separated
- 5 tbsp apricot jam
1 Pre-heat oven to 180C/160 fan.
Line base of 22cm spring form cake tin with parchment paper.
2 Place 175g of the chocolate in a bowl over pan of simmering water. Stir until melted and remove from heat.
3 Cream 125g of the butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in ground almonds, egg yolks and melted chocolate. Beat well.
4 Whisk egg whites until stiff and gently fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into tin and bake 50 – 55 mins until firm to touch.
5 Leave for ten minutes then turn out carefully onto rack to cool completely.
When cool spread with apricot jam.
6 Melt remaining butter (50g) with remaining chocolate (75g) in bowl over simmering water. Stir, cool slightly, then spread over cake allowing mixture to dribble and run down sides slightly.
7 When set, enjoy with a scoop of crème fraiche. It’s very rich so small slices only. Serves 10. OK, make it 8! Also freezes brilliantly. Bon Profit!