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Almonds

 

The almond is one of the most popular nuts, not only in modern times but throughout history. Man has been consuming them since at least 10,000 BC and inevitably before. Almonds were one of the first

 

The almond is one of the most popular nuts, not only in modern times but throughout history. Man has been consuming them since at least 10,000 BC and inevitably before.

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Almonds were one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated. This was done by the Greeks sometime in the third millennium BC.

Sugared almonds, one of the world's oldest confections, most likely originated with the Romans but subsequently became very popular in France. Many French regions and towns are known for their sugared almonds, not the least of which is Verdun.

King Charles IV is reputed to have given sugared almonds to a young girl from Verdun as a Valentines gift. The Romans distributed sugared almonds during ceremonies and showered newlyweds with them as a sign of fertility. Sugared almonds were also used as gifts for esteemed men, bishops, and at baptisms.

Originally native to western Asia, the almond is the seed of a fruit related to the plum and the peach. The Spaniards brought them to the New World in the 1700's. California is by far the largest US producer. Naturally, they are still widely grown throughout the Mediterranean as well.

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There are two types of almonds, sweet and bitter. Bitter almonds contain trace amounts of a lethal acid and are not allowed to be sold in America.

They are often used as a flavoring agent but must be cooked first to neutralize their toxin. Most almond related products utilize the sweet variety.

Almonds are nutritional powerhouses and contain calcium, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B2 and E. They have been purported to lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, and assist in weight maintenance.

Like most nuts, they have a good dose of fat, but it is almost entirely polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats, the white-hat wearers of the lipid world.

Almonds have a wide range of culinary uses although desserts and sweet preparations tend to be the most common. Almond oil is used in baking, salads, and vegetable dishes.

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French almond oil is the best but more expensive. American oil is cheaper but lighter. Almond extract is a mixture of almond oil and ethyl alcohol and is used mostly in baking. Almond paste is a mixture of ground almonds and sugar.

Marzipan is a sweeter and finer grained version of almond paste. Both are used in a variety of baked goods and confections. Macaroons are a famous cookie made from almond paste, sugar and egg whites.

Almonds are also employed in savory dishes such as couscous, rice, stuffings, chicken, and certain fish such as the classic trout almandine. And of course there's Amaretto, the delicious almond flavored liqueur.

MARK'S ALMOND PIE

BRUSSELS SPROUTS ALMANDINE

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