Appeared in Central Asia

The wild almond tree belongs to the Rosaceae family, like the rose bush, the peach tree or the cherry tree. The tree is believed to be native to the mountains of Central Asia and northern Africa. But the kernel it produces, a hard-shelled oleaginous fruit, was initially not edible, due to its bitterness and high-dose toxicity. So it was grafted and cultivated to be tasted. We find traces of this delicate operation in Armenia and Azerbaijan, 1,500 years before our era.

Broadcast in the Mediterranean

Sweet almond is used in cooking by the Egyptians during the 1st millennium BC, especially in the preparation of rolls intended for the pharaohs, but also in cosmetics, because of its soothing properties. But it is in Greece that it is cultivated on a large scale and widely consumed, fresh, dry or in the form of milk. So much so that it spread to Rome under the name of “Greek nut”. The word “almond” comes from the Hellene amugdalê, which gave the French term “amygdale”.

Suitable for all sauces in France

In the Middle Ages, almonds were widely used in the stoves, for savory preparations and soups or for sweet dishes and desserts. Medieval gastronomy also creates sauces to accompany meat and fish. As the taste, at the time, went to light and tangy flavors, the cooks abandoned butter and oil, considered too heavy, and preferred to them the crushed almond as a binder, in addition to the bread. The advantage of this dried fruit? Its fragrant velvety.

Strategic tool in Burgundy

To dazzle their guests and serve their political aims, the Dukes of Burgundy organized sumptuous feasts. At the end of the meal, the most privileged guests had the honor of accompanying their host to his apartments and sharing his candy box. It was garnished with almonds coated with spices and sugar, reputed to facilitate digestion and … diplomatic agreements.

Celebrated in Provence

From the 17th century, in Marseille, almonds, grapes, figs and dates are gifts that are offered between families during Christmas celebrations. It was at this time that the custom of the Provençal dessert was developed, consisting of thirteen sweets. Among them, the “four beggars”, each representing a major mendicant order: walnuts or hazelnuts, the Augustins; dried figs, the Franciscans; almonds, Carmelites and raisins, the Dominicans. A name explained by the color of the dresses worn by these religious, brown like that of the fruit.

Acclimatized in America

Introduced to Spain by the Phoenicians, the almond tree conquered the Iberian landscape and pastry. Its fruit is used in the composition of many sweets, including turron. In the 18th century, Spanish Franciscans imported the tree to North America, particularly California, where it had adapted well. This state, which harvests nearly a million tonnes of almonds per year, is responsible for 80% of world production. Today it is the largest supplier of almonds, far ahead of the country of Cervantes, with its 60,000 tonnes.

Article published in the issue Femme Actuelle Jeux Voyages n ° 15 December-January 2016

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