Cracking the problem of removing a dead almond tree

When do you give up on an old Mallorcan almond tree? We have a few on our finca and they’re past their prime. In spite of that, they are covered in beautiful blossom in the early weeks of each year and offer a reasonable crop of almonds in the autumn. They may be old, but we love them, so they can live out their years in rural Mallorca without fear of a chainsaw massacre.

Mallorcan almond blossom

Blooming lovely!

Sadly, two of our old almond trees were badly damaged in September 2014, when a mini-tornado cut a swathe right through our field. We removed the broken branches then and left the trunks in the hope that there would be some regrowth.

Three years on there was no sign of any life remaining in these two trees. One is set within a stone wall, so must stay (or the wall will tumble down). The other has stood in the middle of the field looking rather forlorn – but removing it would require more than a bit of brute human force. We were pondering this very challenge just the other day, having coffee in the field, while The Boss supervised yet another bonfire. (Fire. It’s a man thing).

I’ll say this for The Boss: he gets things done. I was sitting writing at my computer – my back to the French doors facing the field – when I heard a loud unfamiliar noise. I turned around and our neighbour Lorenzo was in the field on his tractor, pushing the old tree trunk over. He’d been trundling up the lane and stopped for a chat; The Boss asked if he’d be able to pop in sometime to remove the tree (we’ve paid him to do tractor-related jobs before) and Lorenzo said he’d do it there and then. It took just moments to do.Almond tree felled

Down…and destined for the log store

Fungi on an old tree

The tree was dead but the fungus wasn’t!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any man in possession of a large field must be in want of a tractor – or a kindly neighbour with one. Thanks, Lorenzo (and Jane Austen).

©Jan Edwards 2017

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Mallorca + February = almond blossom

Almond blossom's delicate beauty

Almond blossom’s delicate beauty

February can be a cold month on Mallorca, but it can also be one of the most beautiful. This is the month when Mallorca’s thousands of almond trees burst into blossom (and show a hint of the new green growth that will rapidly follow). Those who know the island as a summer or autumn destination, but have never visited in this particular month are missing one of Mallorca’s most impressive natural events.

For those who do visit Mallorca at this time of year, a tour of the island’s rural interior offers plenty of photo opportunities and the delicate scent of almond blossom on the breeze (or, sometimes, the howling wind).

What could be more lovely on a clear day?

What could be more lovely on a clear day?

Mallorca has fiestas and fairs throughout the year and many of these firas are dedicated to produce from the island – including herbs, olives, sobrassada, honey, melons and, of course, almonds.

Step back in time

Today was the almond fair in Son Servera and, never having been before, we went this morning. We knew it was taking place in an old finca, and assumed it would be in the countryside outside the small town. Back in 1780, when it was built, it would have been. Today Ca s’Hereu has become incorporated into the town itself, with newer buildings around it. But once through the gates, the modern face of Son Servera is soon forgotten.

As you’d expect, stalls were selling a variety of products made from almonds, but there were also other foodstuffs available, as well as handicrafts. Wandering musicians played traditional Mallorcan music, and the local television cameras were there to capture it all. Perhaps you’ll spot us on IB3 TV news tonight? Just for a change, we weren’t caught on camera eating. We once appeared on the front cover of a couple of local Manacor magazines, gorging ourselves on ice cream at the town’s September fair; we only found out about that when several people we know in Manacor told us about our ‘starring role’.  Thankfully, we never did see what sounded like an embarrassing photo.

We decided to save our almond-munching until this evening, in the privacy of our own finca. What could be more delicious than a few roasted Mallorcan almonds with a pre-prandial drink? And more evocative of spring than the clouds of almond blossom decorating the island’s many orchards?

The venue for Son Servera's almond fair

The venue for Son Servera’s almond fair

Music, maestros, por favor!

Music, maestros, por favor!

Agricultural implements were on display.

Agricultural implements were on display.

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One day our own almond trees may be this productive . . .

One day our own almond trees may be this productive . . .

All photos by Jan Edwards

 

Nuts about Mallorca

Our neighbours prepare to harvest their almonds

The repetitive clink-clink coming from the direction of the nearest farm means that it’s almond-harvesting time again. Mallorca’s countryside is renowned for its numerous almond orchards and, in particular, the magnificent sight of the almond blossom in late January/February. The locals say their almonds are the best in the world, and I wouldn’t dare disagree.

Fill ‘er up

Almonds have been a fantastically useful crop for a long time here. In the corner of our dining room is an old Hergom stove (sadly no longer operational) in which almond shells used to be burned to heat the house. I’ve even read that, back in the 50s, some people here ran their cars on burning almond shells. I have an image of passengers shelling almonds furiously as the driver progresses, so that their final destination could be reached. Given the record prices of petrol and diesel right now, it could be time to return to this practice.

Let them eat cake

The almond is a highly nutritious nut and the Mallorcans have plenty of recipes incorporating almonds – one of which is one of the island’s best sweet treats, known locally as gató. This is a delicious almond cake, usually served with almond ice cream. It should be made without flour, making it suitable for those on a gluten-free diet, but if you visit Mallorca and want to order this when eating out, it’s wise to confirm that no flour has been used. My father is a coeliac and during his visits we have sometimes come across versions that have some flour in them – presumably because flour is cheaper than almonds.

Almond oil can be used in cooking and also makes a wonderful natural moisturiser for the skin. I recently paid less than 3 euros in a pharmacy for a bottle of almond oil and a little goes a long way (especially if, as I did, you knock the bottle over and spill some!).

Bringing home the harvest

There are several ways to harvest almonds and most of the folks in our valley use the traditional methods: large nets are placed on the ground around the tree and long metal poles are used to bash a hailstorm of nuts to the ground. It looks like the kind of job that ought to require a hard hat, but health and safety rarely seems a consideration here. The more sophisticated farmers – or those with large orchards – use a tractor fitted with a device to shake the tree and a strange attachment resembling an upside-down umbrella, that catches the nuts.

As for us, we have nine almond trees on our land, although not all produce the sweet variety. Being the main consumer of almonds in our household (I have them every morning with fruit and yogurt for breakfast), it falls to me to harvest our nuts. Any day now, I’ll be out there, knocking the almonds from the branches using the plastic handle from my kitchen broom. No chink-chink here . . . more of a dull thud and a curse when an almond bounces off my head.

And then comes the laborious task of removing the nuts, first from their fibrous husks and then their shells. Given the speed at which I manage this part of the job, it’s a good thing we’re not depending on the shells for car or home-heating fuel . . .