Almond Harvest 1981 -2011: the legacy is in your taste buds!
A few years ago I wrote a post talking about my childwood in August explaining how it was not only a time for holidays, the beach, "ferragosto" (15th of August) celebration but also for family gathering in Ispica to harvest almonds and carobs.
My grandmother, Nonna Marietta, daughter of "U Massa Titta" (Titta, or Giambattista Cultrera who was a farmer) had inherited an almond grove dotted with carob trees and we all had to go to help out during the harvest time.
We all dreaded it, spending all day under the scorching sun at 35-40 degrees Celsius in the dry countryside, working under no shade with dry leaves, earth and broken branches falling all over you was not the ideal way to spend a summer day just 15 minutes away from a sandy beach. And the "paddizzuna", this small insects that fell all over you from the tree? Unberable!
Who would had thought, back then, that I could have come to miss all that one day, looking back at it as a piece of family poetry.
Yes, as annoying as the whole process was we learned so much about nature and found also ways to have fun.
I described the organisation of the whole day in the post called "August at the Almond Grove: childhood memories".
To summarise it for you: men had the toughest job, "cutuliari", which means shaking; they had long canes and used them to lightly shake each branch until the almonds fell down on wide nets previously arranged around the tree trunks.
Our task, the children's task, was that of looking for almonds the men might have missed under the tree when they finished and helping women who stayed behind, sitting in the shade cleaning almonds by removing the dry green external shell.
Nonna Marietta would organise the baskets to hold the almonds according to types: fascionello, pizzuta and romana, with the last two being her favourite.
She used to teach us how to recognise the various kinds and, as a treat, every so often, she would sit in a corner and clean some fresh white almonds for us...................an unforgettable taste!
When we had enough and wanted a break, we would hide under a carob tree to enjoy the shade while making necklaces out of carob leaves.
The only pictures I found, of the family gathered in Sanpantinu (San Infantino), are these one taken in spring 1981, when we used to have a meal there while Nonna would check on the trees and understand what the harvest would have been like that year in August. They are special pictures because they had also invited my other grandmother for lunch, so I am standing next to both Nonna Elvira (in the green pullover) and Nonna Marietta (in the black dress).
The other pictures of this year Almond harvest are courtesy of my friends Francesco and Mariangela at Blanqa.
Today, my daughter is missing this direct contact with nature within a family context like that with the teachings of Nonna Marietta, but as they say "il sangue non è acqua" (blood is not water) and I recently discovered she has it all in her genes.
She loves almonds and has them regularly as a snack. One day, while we were abroad, they offered her some almonds. She took just one, then stopped eating them.
I asked her why and her confident reply was "mamma, they are bitter, dry and with less taste than the ones we have at home". So I tasted them again, paying more attention and...she was right!
My little 4 years old princess is used to her "pizzuta di Avola", the most prestigious kind of almonds chosen by top pâtissiers and confectioners, with a high content of essential oils, a sweet vanilla flavour and a delicate bitter after taste, rather than a dry, flat bitter taste.
So I smiled as I saw that even if they never got the chance to meet, Nonna Marietta had planted her seed in my Sofia and Massa Titta's heritage was still alive in her taste buds, in a very XXI century kind of way.