Photos by Aglaia Kremezi
Throughout the Middle East, the green almonds of early spring are nibbled raw, added to salads, or cooked together with lamb in a lemony sauce. In Greece they are preserved in heavy syrup as a spoon-sweet, like karydaki (green, unripe walnuts) or melitzanaki (tiny eggplants, the most exotic of our spoon-sweets). Green almonds are also pickled. Unusually delicious and crunchy, they are served as an appetizer, together with various kinds of olives, pickled cauliflower, peppers and carrots. Their sour taste perfectly complements the sweet and strong, anise-flavored ouzo or raki. And the traditional flourless almond cookies of my island, Kea, are an ideal Passover sweet because they are simply made with almonds, sugar, and egg whites.
Here on Kea, fuzzy, green almonds are the first sign of spring in our garden. These last few weeks, we were blessed with considerable rain, following a somewhat mild winter. A cold, wet March anticipates plentiful summer vegetable gardens, according to Greek proverbs, but our almond trees were not particularly spectacular this year. This year there were only scattered blossoms, and just the smallest of our twenty or so almond trees were in full bloom. Keans say that almond trees, much like olive trees, blossom bountifully every second year, and last summer we did have something of a bumper crop.
It is important to select green almonds that are crunchy but still tender, picked before their shell hardens, while the nut inside appears translucent. To select green almonds for pickling I have to watch their growth attentively, picking them when they are less than an inch long. Just a couple of days too late and I might find them too large and tough, unsuitable for pickling. But we waste nothing. Even when the outer layers of some of the almonds are no longer edible--having tipped toward acridity, with an unpleasantly hairy coating--I pick them with guilty pleasure. I crack the shells open with my teeth and savor the watery nut.