From vantage point on the Shankaracharya hill in Srinagar, I can see a series of pink patches scattered on the slopes below — hundreds of leafless almond trees full of pale pink blossoms with deeper pink centres.
This is the earliest of the fruit trees to bloom in Kashmir and while towards the end of winter, nature seems to have woken up from under the quilt of snow, the first blossoms of almond announce the arrival of the much-awaited spring.
About half a century ago, one could see almond orchards in bloom down the eastern and southern sides of the Shankaracharya hill as well as across the Dal on Hariparbat but now, with the new buildings coming up at Badamibagh and Badamvari, one has to look for a couple of almond trees in any garden to see picnickers flock under them carrying food in traditional wicker baskets and the portable teapot "Samovar" for providing them hot tea.
Almond (Prunus amydgdalus), belonging to the rose family, was originally found in parts of Asia and principally Algeria. It grows up to 30 feet in height and is known for its nutritious and delicious nuts. Long before Christ, people in the Middle East were using almonds in their diet and its oil for machines. It probably travelled to Kashmir with the Mughals or Afghans. (A handful of plain almonds are not only a tasty snack but are nutritious too. Almonds contain important nutrients as well as significant amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. As many as 20 to 25 kernels can provide 170 calories. About half an almond’s weight is vegetable oil — a highly unsaturated fat with no cholesterol.
The fruits also supply a high amount of essential minerals like phosphorous, copper, and magnesium as well as calcium, in addition to being a rich source of Vitamin E and Riboflavin (Vitamin B2). Bitter almonds should be handled cautiously as they contain poisonous hydrocyanic acid.
Almonds, while on trees, are auctioned to wholesale fruit merchants during the blooming period. A crop may fail due to hailstorm or sub-freezing temperatures existing over a long period.
Delicate buds give way to a tiny sour fruit with a watery core. With the passage of time, the kernel is formed and towards the beginning of autumn, the trees are shaken, causing the almonds to fall down in a clattering hail onto canvas sheets stretched below.
They are collected, dried, hulled, and then graded according to the size and fitness of the shell.
There is always a demand
for almonds around Divali and New Year, for weddings and feasts, and a
demand from confectioners, ice cream companies and tourists who carry
them back as souvenirs.