The almond is related to the peach, plum and apricot family. The oval-shaped nut is encased in a velvety green hull that splits off when the nut is ripe and the tough fibrous brown shell within has formed. Whole unshelled almonds are usually sold at Christmas time, but the shelled kernel is more widely used for snacking and for cooking. The nut is coated with a papery brown skin, but may be sold blanched (skinned) chopped, flaked or ground and also salted or roasted. Bitter almonds are also grown but can only be used in cooking as they’re poisonous when eaten raw.
All year round.
To skin almonds, blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then drain and slip off their skins. Dry before using. To toast almonds, either dry fry in a pan or brown under the grill, watching carefully that they do not scorch. Ground almonds can be used to make almond paste, used in cakes, macaroons, and frangipane fillings for Bakewell tarts. Whole or flaked almonds are delicious toasted and served with trout; they’re a typical addition to Middle Eastern tagines, and are very tasty salted or roasted as a snack.
Almonds should be kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool dry place. They will keep for up to two years.