Can anyone resist an almond? Seeing as how popular culture has lent its name to eyes with an irresistible gaze, the answer is probably no... Everyone raves about these little nuggets of happiness you can savour every which way – fresh, dried, whole, grilled, sliced, ground or made into a cream or milk!
Almonds are somewhat the teacher's favourite; the hard-working top of the class who just can't go wrong. They are back in vogue in France and the French now consume 35,000 metric tons every year. But we are lagging behind on the growing front: France is 24th in the world rankings, with 0.007% of world production, i.e. just 500 metric tons of shelled almonds in good years! However, there is cause for optimism: industrial and artisan almond users are now demanding high-quality French almonds. And here in Provence, we know all about quality…
Tasty and healthy
Almonds are found everywhere here, from nougat to crunches, "Calisson" candies and marzipan. They are also savoured in the shape of gazelle horns, amaretti and macaroons prepared with bitter almonds (master biscuit maker Jo at Les Navettes des Accoules in Marseille shows just how refined almonds can be).
"After the fires that ravaged our countryside in 1992-1993, the town planted 5 acres of almond trees", recounts Mathieu Prioul, owner of Ferme de l’Espigaou in La Fare-les-Oliviers. "That represents around 200 trees and I'm in charge of looking after them". Alas, his organic trees produce few – too few – almonds, victims of the Eurytoma wasp responsible for a whopping 80% of losses. "Organic farming methods haven't cracked it yet", says Mathieu Prioul sadly. "In some years, the harvest is literally non-existent".
With traditional varieties such as the Ay, Princesse and Sultanne, and AOP varieties including the Ferraduel, Ferrastar, Lauranne, and Mandaline, almonds are right at home here in Provence. In Saint-Martin-de-Crau, Denis de Welle dedicates 37 out of his 200 acres to almond growing – and everyone fights to get their hands on his almonds when he sets up shop at the farm markets of Aix and Marseille. "I sell wholesale almonds, but I make my own almond powder and home-made nougat using a family recipe", explains Denis.
Yin & Yang
Black and white nougat are the yin and yang of Provencal confectionery. Immaculate white for some, the black of caramelized honey for others. But if you want to make your own white nougat, you'll need to transform yourself into Vishnu, the Hindu god with many arms, because the recipe involves doing a lot of different things at once...
Start by grilling 300g of almonds in a pan for around 7 minutes over a high heat.
Heat 200g caster sugar, 100g glucose and 65g water to a temperature of 140°C. At the same time, heat 250g of lavender honey to 140°C in another pan. Meanwhile, get your kids to beat 60g of egg whites until nice and fluffy. Gradually pour the hot honey over the egg whites. Then add the sugar syrup. Get someone to help you by heating the bowl with a hairdryer to stop the mixture going hard. Mix gently and add the hot almonds. Next, simply spread the paste evenly on some greaseproof paper, cover with a second sheet and flatten with a rolling pin. Leave to cool for at least 6 hours in a dry place, then cut into 5 cm slices using a serrated knife. And for the rest... You won't need any instructions!
Black or white nougat are the yin and yang of Provencal confectionery
Le Grand Pastis offers a picture-postcard portrait of gourmet Provence. Pierre Psaltis shares his conception of gastronomy, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, presents his tasted-and-approved recipes, uncorks the finest vintages and invites you out to dinner... A concentrate of news, spiked with the inimitable local accent.
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A gourmet treat…
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