Yesterday, I made three pounds of buttery, salty roasted almonds. It’s a family thing — if a slightly complicated one. My biological dad’s mom taught my mom how to make them. My mom and dad split up when I was small, but my mom carried on the holiday tradition of making the almonds because, in that short time, members of both sides of the family had become addicted to them.
As a kid, I liked to hang around the kitchen while my mom prepared to roast the nuts. There was one main reason for this. The almonds must be soaked and blanched, and one way to liberate a nut from its skin is to squeeze it so that the slick almond shoots across the room at your mother, with missile-like velocity. What kid wouldn’t hang around for that? Every year, I have to launch a few almonds in this way, for old times’ sake.
Last year was the first year I made these almonds myself. This is the part of the story that’s harder to tell. My dad loved these nuts so much that for years I would send him a batch that my mom had made, but I always let him think I had done it myself. (He thought “I” made them better than anyone else in the family.) Why I perpetuated this white lie is part of the familial complication — basically, I wanted everyone to be happy. But last Christmas, I decided to come clean. I asked my mom for instructions and I made the nuts. I like to think that I also told my dad the truth, that it was really my mom who had been making the almonds for me to give to him all those years. The sad thing is that I don’t remember if I told my dad the truth or not. And now I can’t ask him, because he passed away in October.
I’m so glad I made the almonds for my dad last year. I expect I’ll continue to make them as the years go on. I want to record the method here, not just because you might want to do this yourself, but so our family doesn’t lose the directions – imprecise as they may be. Last December, my mom gave me detailed instructions over the phone, but when I went back to my notes, this is what I found I’d written down:
- boil water
- steep nuts
- drain in colander/skin
- pat dry
- cookie sheet 1/2 stick melt down
- add lawyer nuts (my handwriting can be pretty bad)
- nicely coat with butter/not too close
- space layer paper towels
- dump onto towels
- fine grain salt
- cool before container
That’s totally clear, right?
If it’s not, I can elaborate. What you need for each batch of almonds is:
- 1 pound almonds
- 1/2 stick butter
- plenty of fine grain salt (we’ve found that ordinary Morton’s works best, better quality Kosher or sea salts don’t seem to stick as well)
1. I get a 3 pound bag of almonds from Costco (otherwise this is a very pricey undertaking) and plan for three batches, blanching all the nuts at once. All you need to do is bring a big pot of water to a boil, remove the pot from the heat, then dump in the almonds and let them soak in the hot water until they’ll easily slip their skins. I think this could be as quick as 15 minutes, but today I left them soaking for about an hour. Drain the almonds and remove the skins. I do this sitting on the floor in front of the TV. It takes me exactly the time of a full-length feature film to get the skins off 3 pounds of almonds.
2. If you want to be precise about it, you can weigh out 1 pound of almonds. I measure by eyeballing the 3-pound pile and taking what seems like a third. Pat the almonds dry between paper towels. Turn on your oven’s broiler and place a rack 5-6 inches underneath it. Put the 1/2 stick of butter on a cookie sheet with a lip and melt the butter under the broiler, checking it frequently and sliding it around to be sure the butter doesn’t scorch. Then add a single layer of nuts (they can be “lawyer nuts” if you want, but almonds are probably better) to the pan, coating them well with the butter and making sure they’re not piled on top of each other. Also, at this point you should also lay down a long double layer of paper towels on the counter, so the towels are ready when you bring the almonds out of the oven.
3. Roast the nuts under the broiler, checking and stirring them frequently. Frequently is key. After the first few minutes, you’ll be checking every couple of minutes (every minute toward the end) and “mooshing them around” (says my mom) so they don’t burn. This is where I still have some trouble. I usually don’t moosh often enough and always end up with some burned nuts. Luckily, blackened almonds also have some fans, so you can pull those out and set them aside for the lovers of burned food. The roasting and mooshing process takes about 15 minutes in all.
4. Remove the nuts from the oven and spread them onto the waiting paper towels. While they are still hot, salt them liberally. Use more salt than you think you need, because a lot of it won’t stick.
5. Let the nuts cool completely before you put them into any kind of container. This will keep them crunchy.
I’d like to end with a link to a short post I wrote about my dad back in 2008. I’d forgotten about it until just now. Merry Christmas, Dad. I’ll leave your almonds under the tree.
Last summer a friend gave me frozen plums. Enormous, icy bricks of purple, purple plums. They’d been tucked away in her freezer for quite a while, and she needed to clear them out in anticipation of moving. So this fall, when I haven’t had time to preserve a single thing, I’ve been opening the freezer and thinking, whoa, that’s a lot of plums. Those, in addition to the plums I put away in June when my neighbor’s tree fell down.
Tumbling toward the holidays, I wanted to make something instead of cranberry relish with turkey. My mom makes the best cranberry relish. (I know, everyone’s mom probably does that. But my mom’s is really the best.) I’m still not eating sugar, though — at least not much — so I decided to try for something rich and tart and sweetened with honey. Plums and spices seemed just right, and plums do the fruit butter thing so well. Even though they’d been in the freezer longer than I want to say, the texture of this butter was just perfect and the flavor good enough that the first batch is already gone.
And that’s okay, because I have more plums.
Holiday Plum Butter Sweetened with Honey
6 cups plum pulp
1.5 cups wildflower honey
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur)
2 tablespoons orange zest, finely minced
10 cardamom pods, cracked and ground (husks discarded)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
1 bay leaf
1. Break down the plums into pulp. Mine were frozen with the pits still in them, so I let them thaw, washed my hands well, and plunged in, fishing out the pits from the mixture. Then I used a Vitamix (any food processor will do) to make a roughly blended pulp.
2. Add all remaining ingredients except the vanilla bean and bay leaf. I gently warmed a cup of honey and stirred it into the plum pulp, then mixed in the Grand Marnier, finely minced orange zest, cardamom (cracked and ground with mortar and pestle), and lemon juice. I let all of this sit in the fridge overnight, because I wanted to give the mixture a chance to come together so I could taste it before cooking. (Letting a mixture sit for a night or even an hour is a good thing to do if you think you may want to make some adjustments to the flavor.) The plums were very tart so I decided to add a half cup more honey before cooking, for the total of 1.5 cups.
3. Add the vanilla bean and bay leaf, then cook. I brought the mixture to a steady but gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Then I almost immediately turned down the heat to medium low — and then down even further as cooking progressed. Watch for sticking and stir as needed — toward the end, you’ll be stirring often. After cooking for about 30 minutes, I used an immersion blender to turn the mixture buttery smooth, then continued cooking until the mixure was very thick, about 40 minutes. There was a good clear track across the bottom of the pan (the track filled in verrry slowly) to tell me the butter was done.
4. Store in the fridge or process in a hot-water bath. For me, this recipe yielded about two pints of plum butter for the fridge. If I’d canned it, I would have left 1/4″ head space and processed the jars for 10 minutes in a hot-water bath.
I want to say it’s going to get crazy cold here, but I know that’s going to make a bunch of people either laugh or get irritated. Oh well. This is California. When temps drop into the 30s, it’s all over the news.
Go ahead, laugh.
Also, this weather app estimates temps for some part of Fairfax that’s warmer than our house. When it says 36° or below, I know we’ll get frost. Last year, we had so many frosts and freezes that I got all tuckered out from dancing with giant covers for eight different trees — seven citrus and a baby apricot. Put them on at night, take them off in the morning, put them on at night, take them off in the morning, repeatedly obsessing about whether or not it’s going to get cold enough that I have to drag my butt outside in the dark to put them on at night, take them off in the morning.
Every year I read about protecting trees by stringing them with Christmas lights and I think, I want to try that, but then I’m too lazy to make it happen. This year, I decided that one burst of focused energy would be better than all those gyrations with the covers, and it’s on. I went out and bought seven boxes of outdoor-rated C7 lights. To give off enough heat, they have to be old-school, energy inefficient C7 or C9 lights, not LED lights. I strung them in all of my vulnerable trees, being sure to concentrate the bulbs around the trunk and in the lower branches. That way, the trunk is protected and the rest of the tree will catch the rising heat.
To protect the plugs from rain, I cut up plastic bags and used electrical tape to secure the plastic around each exposed plug and socket. (Not that we’re getting any rain, but that’s mostly a another story. The relevant part here is that, if it hasn’t been raining, remember to water plants deeply if a frost or freeze is expected. It’s one of the best things to do to keep them safe.)
There’s some risk to this experiment. A few of the citrus trees got confused by our unusually warm fall and went into furious bloom. I’m ready to accept that many of those blossoms won’t become fruit. Overall, I figure there may be some damage to the trees, but not death. And if we go into a prolonged period of hard freeze — say, a week or more — I’ll bring out the covers.
The other thing I’ll need to watch is our electricity bill. If it skyrockets, this will be a single season event.
Meanwhile, it’s very cheerful!
P.S. The other garden-related task I completed this week is reconditioning three pairs of sad and rusty pruning shears and snips. (That was another thing I’d put off for a long time. Now that it’s done, I’m very pleased and proud.) I followed these instructions from Weekend Gardener, which I found to be clear and easy.