Almonds in Bloom

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            I recently had the opportunity to take a midweek escape to the seaside towns of Hammamet and Nabuel.  This may have been my fifth drive in the past six months on this stretch of highway and till now, I have been mesmerized by the continuous fields of olives and grapes, but this drive, all I saw were the delicate white blossoms of almonds on gnarled, winter-bare branches.  Of course, it makes sense that there would be large orchards as almonds are a staple of Tunisian cuisine in almond paste, sweets, milk, and in savory dishes.  Beyond this region and time though, they are considered to be one of the earliest cultivated foods, mentioned, along with dates, in the Old Testament of the Bible.
             Almonds are actually stone fruits related to cherries, plums and peaches, which are the next three crops that will follow almonds this spring.  They are the most nutrient-dense tree nut. One ounce of almonds (20-25) contains 160 calories, only 1 gram of saturated fat, and no cholesterol.  They are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, and a good source of protein and potassium.  I first became keen about incorporating almonds as a lifestyle choice when I learned that a long-distance runner friend of ours simply ate a handful of almonds for breakfast every morning.  The man is nothing but lean and it caught my attention.
Our friend, Paul, is visiting this week.  Being a fellow whole-foods soul and also wise in the ways of science, I asked him what he thinks is an important message about almonds at the moment. He alerted me to the tenuous balance between the honeybee hive providers and the pollination needs of the almond growers. In California this year, there will be 740,000 acres of almond-bearing groves, an increase of 20,000 acres.  Realistically, almond growers will need between 1.3 million and 1.5 million strong hives to pollinate all those acres.  This is from the blog The Bee Keeper, by Kim Flottum.  I had no idea about this interdependence.  I have truthfully never actually pondered almonds before, but I now find it incredible and also wonderful that after many millennia of almond cultivation, it’s still done the old fashioned way.  I really wonder now how intentionally Tunisian farmers pollinate their groves.  I know that the town of Tabarka is well-known for its excellent honey production so I wonder if there is a connection there.  That sounds like another great reason to take a road trip.

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