Archive for November, 2007


It’s almond pruning time again at Los Gazquez and this is what I have gleaned from the locals. You will need…


A Husqvarna pro chain-saw with helmet and visor. The helmet is to protect your head when a branch lands on it having cut it off the tree with a ‘Kamikaze’ long handled saw. Big clippers, small saw, gloves and a hoe.

Then you take one almond tree with 20 years of neglect…

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You need to cut out all the strong new growth through the centre as these put all the moisture into new growth, not almonds.
Cutting out the branches that grow up through the crown allows the sun in to ripen the nuts more effectively.

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And the finished article already for spring blossom and a bumper crop.

And here is what the blossom should look like.


But then this spring past we had heavy snow and at our altitude it took all the blossom and we had a crop failure.



It is native to Iran, from northwestern Saudi Arabia, north through western Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, western Syria, to southern Turkey. It is a small deciduous tree, growing to 4–10 m tall, with a trunk up to 30 cm diameter. The young shoots are green at first, becoming purplish where exposed to sunlight, then grey in their second year. The leaves are lanceolate, 4–13 cm long and 1.2–4 cm broad, with a serrated margin and a 2.5 cm petiole. The flowers are white or pale pink, 3–5 cm diameter with five petals, produced singly or in pairs before the leaves in early spring.
The fruit is a drupe 3.5–6 cm long, with a downy outer coat. The outer covering or exocarp, fleshy in other members of Prunus such as the plum and cherry, is reduced to a leathery grey-green coat called the hull, which contains inside a hard shell the edible kernel, commonly called a nut in culinary terms. Generally, one kernel is present, but occasionally two. However, in botanical terms, an almond is not a true nut. In botanical parlance, the reticulated hard stony shell is called an endocarp. It is mature in the autumn, 7–8 months after flowering.


Origin and history

The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant; almonds must first have been taken into cultivation in this region. The fruit of the wild forms contains the glycoside amygdalin, “which becomes transformed into deadly prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) after crushing, chewing, or any other injury to the seed”. Before cultivation and domestication occurred, wild almonds were harvested as food and doubtless were processed by leaching or roasting to remove their toxicity. The domesticated form can ripen fruit as far north as the British Isles.

However, domesticated almonds are not toxic; Jared Diamond argues that a common genetic mutation causes an absence of glycoside amygdalin, and this mutant was grown by early farmers, “at first unintentionally in the garbage heaps and later intentionally in their orchards”. Zohary and Hopf believe that almonds were one of the earliest domesticated fruit-trees due to “the ability of the grower to raise attractive almonds from seed. Thus in spite of the fact that this plant does not lend itself to propagation from suckers or from cuttings, it could have been domesticated even before the introduction of grafting”. Domesticated almonds appear in the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) of the Near East, or possibly a little earlier. A well-known archaeological example of almond is the fruits found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant.
Almond is called Lawz in Arabic, Baadaam in Persian, Urdu and Hindi.



Almond output in 2005
Global production of almonds is around 1.7 million tonnes, with a low of 1 million tonnes in 1995 and a peak of 1.85 million tonnes in 2002 according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) figures. According to the FAO, world production of almonds was 1.76 million tonnes in 2006. Major producers are the USA (715623 t, 41%), Spain (220000 t, 13%), Syria (119648 t, 7%), Italy (112796 t, 6%), Iran (108677 t, 6%) and Morocco (83000 t, 5%). Algeria, Tunisia and Greece each account for 3%, Turkey, Lebanon and China each account for 2%. In Turkey, most of the production comes from the Datca peninsula. In Spain, numerous commercial cultivars of sweet almond are produced, most notably the Jordan almond (imported from Málaga) and the Valencia almond. In the United States, production is concentrated in California, with almonds being California’s sixth leading agricultural product and its top agricultural export. California exported almonds valued at 1.08 billion dollars in 2003, about 70% of total California almond crop.
Because of cases of Salmonella traced to almonds in 2001 and 2004, in 2006 the California Almond Board proposed and the USDA approved rules regarding the nature of almonds available to the public. From 1 September 2007, raw almonds will technically no longer be available in the United States. Controversially, almonds labeled as “raw” will required to be steam pasteurised or chemically treated with propylene oxide.


Sweet and bitter almonds

There are two forms of the plant, one (often with white flowers) producing sweet almonds, and the other (often with pink flowers) producing bitter almonds. The kernel of the former contains a fixed oil and emulsion. As late as the early 20th century the oil was used internally in medicine, with the stipulation that it must not be adulterated with that of the bitter almond; it remains fairly popular in alternative medicine, particularly as a carrier oil in aromatherapy, but has fallen out of prescription among doctors.
The bitter almond is rather broader and shorter than the sweet almond, and contains about 50% of the fixed oil which also occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on a soluble glucoside, amygdalin, yielding glucose, cyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds or benzaldehyde. Bitter almonds may yield from 6 to 8% of hydrogen cyanide. Extract of bitter almond was once used medicinally but even in small doses effects are severe and in larger doses can be deadly; the cyanide must be removed before consumption.
The nut has also been used as a preventative for alcohol intoxication. Folklore claims that almonds are poisonous to foxes.


Culinary uses

While the almond is most often eaten on its own, raw or toasted, it is used in some dishes. It, along with other nuts, is often sprinkled over desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream based dishes. It is also used in making baklava and nougat. There is also almond butter, a spread similar to peanut butter, popular with peanut allergy sufferers and for its less salty taste. The young, developing fruit of the almond tree can also be eaten as a whole (“green almonds”), when it is still green and fleshy on the outside, and the inner shell has not yet hardened. The fruit is somewhat sour, and is available only from mid April to mid June; pickling or brining extends the fruit’s shelf life.
The sweet almond itself contains practically no carbohydrates and may therefore be made into flour for cakes and biscuits for low carbohydrate diets or for patients suffering from diabetes mellitus or any other form of glycosuria.
A standard serving of almond flour, 1 cup, contains 20 grammes of carbohydrates, of which 10 g is dietary fibre, for a net of 10 g of carbohydrate per cup. This makes almond flour very desirable for use in cake and bread recipes by people on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
In Greece, ground blanched almonds are used as the base material in a great variety of desserts, usually called amygdalota (αμυγδαλωτά). Because of their white colour, most are traditionally considered “wedding sweets” and are served at wedding banquets.
Almonds can be processed into a milk substitute simply called almond milk; the nut’s soft texture, mild flavour, and light colouring (when skinned) make for an efficient analog to dairy, and a soy-free choice, for lactose intolerant people, vegans, and so on. Raw, blanched, and lightly toasted almonds all work well for different production techniques, some of which are very similar to that of soymilk and some of which actually use no heat, resulting in “raw milk” (see raw foodism).
Sweet almonds are used in marzipan, nougat, and macaroons, as well as other desserts. Almonds are a rich source of Vitamin E, containing 24 mg per 100 g. They are also rich in monounsaturated fat, one of the two “good” fats responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol.
The Marcona variety of almond, which is shorter, rounder, sweeter, and more delicate in texture than other varieties, originated in Spain and is becoming popular in North America and other parts of the world. Marcona almonds are traditionally served after being lightly fried in oil, and are also used by Spanish chefs to prepare a dessert called turrón.
In China, almonds are used in a popular dessert when they are mixed with milk and then served hot. In Indian cuisine, almonds are the base ingredient for pasanda-style curries.


Almond oil

“Oleum Amygdalae”, the fixed oil, is prepared from either variety of almond and is a glyceryl oleate, with a slight odour and a nutty taste. It is almost insoluble in alcohol but readily soluble in chloroform or ether. It may be used as a substitute for olive oil.
The sweet almond oil is obtained from the dried kernel of the plant. This oil has been traditionally used by massage therapists to lubricate the skin during a massage session, being considered by many to be an effective emollient.


Almond syrup

Historically, almond syrup was an emulsion of sweet and bitter almonds usually made with barley syrup (orgeat syrup) or in a syrup of orange-flower water and sugar.
The Grocer’s Encyclopedia (1911) notes that “Ten parts of sweet almonds are generally employed to three parts of bitter almonds”, however due to the cyanide found in bitter almonds, modern syrups generally consist of only sweet almonds.

Possible health benefits

Edgar Cayce, a man regarded as the father of American holistic medicine, also highly favoured the almond. In his readings, Cayce often recommended that almonds be included in the diet. Claimed health benefits include improved complexion, improved movement of food through the colon and the prevention of cancer. Recent research associates inclusion of almonds in the diet with elevating the blood levels of high density lipoproteins and of lowering the levels of low density lipoproteins.
A controlled trial showed that 73g of almonds in the daily diet reduced LDL-cholesterol by as much as 9.4%.
In Ayurveda, the Dharmic System of Medicine, almond is considered a nutritive for brain and nervous system. It is said to induce high intellectual level and longevity. Almond oil is called Roghan Badam in both Ayurveda and Unani Tibb (the Greco-Persian System of Medicine). It is extracted by cold process and is considered a nutritive aphrodisiac both for massage and internal consumption. Recent studies have shown that the constituents of almond have anti-inflammatory, immunity boosting, and anti-hepatotoxicity effects.




Chestnut Zorro


I saw the fox again this morning (Zorro in Spanish). Unlike his cousins in London, we new so well, he is much darker, chestnut almost, but equally gregarious. And unlike those cousins he is not plagued with mange but is a fit, large animal, possessed with all the qualities of a fox we know so well. I suspect those cousins are supported even in weak health by an abundance of free discarded food whereas the animal here is much more exposed to the old orders of natural selection. Hence the apparent size and health.

The word shenanigan is considered to be derived from the Irish expression sionnachuighim, meaning “I play the fox.”

We all know the other ‘Zorro’….




… and Sollie’s animals, but the picture is too big for the scanner


Before I get in trouble for preferential treatment between twins here is Solomon’s work of ‘genius’. It was drawn a while ago but it is one of our favourites.


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Ok, I confess it can be tedious when parents celebrate the ‘genius’ of their offspring, and I am no exception. But we talk to the children a lot about the environment and how to recognise the difference between the species and I think they have really risen to the occasion when it comes to our adventure out here in the wilderness.

I love the way Sesame has rendered the different colours, shapes and foliage of the trees around us here on our land.





Our friends Juan and Anna kindly gave us some strings of ‘bell peppers’ which Juan has grown in his kitchen garden. Nearly all the houses in the area have great strings of them drying in the air from their roofs and balconies.

Two weeks before Christmas the fatted pig is brought out and slaughtered on a table in the open. Not a drop of blood is spilt and the men of the family meticulously clean the slain beast. Then the women of the house butcher the carcass turning it into Chorizo (with the pimiento) and a million and one other products, and the animal feeds the family a long way into the next year, all without the aid of refrigeration.





Despite the altitude we have a bumper crop of oranges despite the tree being annihilated by the snow last February. Has anyone got a good recipe for marmalade?


Orange derives from Sanskrit nāraṅgaḥ “orange tree”, with borrowings through Persian nārang, Arabic nāranj, Spanish naranja, Late Latin arangia, Italian arancia or arancio, and Old French orenge, in chronological order. The first appearance in English dates from the 14th century. The name of the colour is largely derived from the fruit, first appearing in this sense in the 16th century.
The Emperor Baber, in his memoirs, mentions the “naranj” as one of the kinds of Citrus he found in India. … He says little about the Indian oranges, but a good deal about those of Central Asia, and the N.W. frontier of India. He adds that in the latter part it is called narank. The kinds he alludes to are evidently sweet oranges of some sort (vide Baber’s memoirs, Appendix No. 1(a)) Risso, in his monograph, gives “narandj” as the Arabic Synonym of the Citrus Bigaradia, the Seville orange, and Alphonse de Candolle credits the Arabs with having transported the bitter orange from Western India to Persia, Arabia, Syria, Northern Africa, and Spain. The Arab physicians are known to have used it in their pharmaceutical preparations. The Arab name naranj may or may not have been derived from nagrung, the supposed Sanskrit name for orange. Actually, the colour orange came before the fruit because you cannot not call the tree orange unless orange already existed as a color.
—Bonavia, 1888[1]
Multiple sources conjecture that the Sanskrit word itself derives from an unknown Dravidian source, based on the historical spread of oranges through the world (cf. Tamil ‘nram’, Tulu ‘nregi’).
According to another source[citation needed], the name ‘Orange’ come from Tamil word ‘Aru’(‘Or’) meaning ‘Six’ + ‘Anju’ (‘ange’) meaning ‘five’. The fruit typically has 11 pieces inside which when you cut into half has 6(‘Aru’) pieces in one half and 5(‘five’) pieces on the other.
There is disagreement as to whether the Old French borrowed the Italian melarancio (with mela “fruit”, i.e. melarancio “fruit of the orange tree”) as pume orenge (with pume “fruit”) (deMause, 1998), or whether it borrowed Arabic nāranj, with no intermediate step (AHD, 2000). In any case, the initial n was lost before the word entered English.
The French shift from arenge to orenge may have been influenced by the French word or (gold) — in reference to the colour of oranges — or by the name of Orange, France, a major distribution point of oranges to northern regions. The name of the village did not derive from the word: in Old Provençal, it was known as Aurenja, with the initial sound later shifting (McPhee, 1975) (the original Roman name of the village was Arausio and came from a Celtic water god). The village name and fruit name thus converged coincidentally, one becoming associated with the other (conflation).
Later, the sovereign principality of Orange was the property of the House of Orange (later House of Orange-Nassau), which adopted both fruit and colour (already associated with the principality) as its symbols. Many things were in turn named after this royal House, which is the present ruling monarchy of the Netherlands.
In Dutch the fruit is known as Sinaasappel or Appelsien (both derived from “Chinese apples”), and words similar to Appelsien are found in a number of Germanic, Slavic, and Ural-Altaic languages. A few other Slavic languages use words derived from Latin “Pomum aurantium”, which similarly meant “Golden apples” — as did the Ancient Greek term, Chrisomilia. The modern Hebrew “Tapuah Zahav” means “Golden Apple” and is usually shortened to “Tapuz”. Modern Greek, and many languages of the Middle East — from Ethiopia to Azerbaijan to Romania — use words derived from the country name “Portugal”, at one time the major source of imported oranges in the Middle East. See this comprehensive discussion about the etymology of the word “Orange” in various languages.




Shrimp of the Island

Otherwise known as ‘Camaron de la Isla’. This is a new passion for me, so I am no expert, but I wonder sometimes if the ‘Gitanos’ really represent ‘counter culture’ here in Spain. ‘Camaron de la Isla’ was an enormous talent singing at the creative limits of a music form (flamenco) which (and contradict me if I’m wrong) is the only popular and contemporary music form that exists, though traditional, in the west.

Like a lot of creative people he crashed in flames on a roll of drink and drugs dying of cancer, I think, in his early forties. But my goodness what an artist.



Pirate’s castle


The Castillo de San Pedro (the guide book says) is an old fort which dates from the ‘epoca de los piratas berberiscos’ so clearly a pirate’s castle. Again on the ‘Cabo de Gata’ which incidentally isn’t the ‘cape of cats’ but a corruption of ‘cape of agates’.



More inversions






Sunday. We had a picnic at our favourite beach on the ‘Cabo de Gata’. Although the sun was hot, a cool breeze blew from the east, the Levante.

The wind rises in the central Mediterranean or around the Balearic Islands and blows westwards reaching its greatest intensity through the Strait of Gibraltar. The winds are moist carrying fog and precipitation in the eastern side of the Strait, but dry in the western side, as the moisture rains on the mountains between Algeciras and Tarifa. The winds are well known for creating a particular cloud formation above the Rock of Gibraltar. The Levanter winds can occur at any time in the year, but are most common from July to October.

This is the ‘Castillo de San Ramon’ and this east facing coast is subject to the ‘viento de levante’. Interestingly the verb in Spanish ‘to lift’ is levantar, so the east, where the sun rises, is where the sun is ‘lifted’.

The wind which blows from the opposite direction is called the ‘Poniente’ from the verb poner ‘to put’. So the sun is raised at dawn and put down at dusk, how lyrical.

And the mists that accompany the ‘Levante’? Here in ‘Los Velez’ in the early mornings we have some spectacular inversions. I awoke to fog and drove up the mountain into blue sky and sunshine.



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