Almond trees used to be grown on the poor soils of the Sault and Venasque plateau, but also on those of St Didier and Pernes. Almond trees could enhance those marginal lands. Today they are grown on fertile plains to optimize their growth. Provence was one of the 1st world almond producers from 1880 to 1920. Almonds were broken during wakes at various people’s homes on a rotational basis. Now French production accounts for less than 1% of French consumption, with 99% of almonds consumed in France imported mainly from the USA. But the quality of French almonds is recognized around the world.
Almonds are rich in calcium, magnesium and trace elements. Great for health, they are part of the Mediterranean diet.
Numerous Provençal specialties are made with almonds: black and white nougats are part of the famous thirteen desserts of the ’big Christmas Eve supper’. Both nougats symbolize the struggle between good and evil. Each family have their own nougat recipe. There is another strongly symbolic Christmas Eve dessert: the ’Mendicants’, dried fruits representing the Mendicant orders that had taken a vow of poverty. Other almond specialties include: ’calissons’, barley water or ’mauresque’ when added to ’pastis’, almond paste, ’croquants’...
In Provence, almonds also used to be eaten green, and sold that way in June. To eat it, you needed to remove the yellow skin around the white almond. But it would quickly wither. For conservation and trade reasons, this practice has disappeared and is only carried on by elders out of nostalgia.
Almonds are also used to make a popular oil for sensitive skin.
The almond has a strong symbolic value, and it is found in Christian art and iconography as the Mandorla, a mystical almond surrounding Christ.