Antonio Ramon Torres "Toni de Can Ramunet",
a good neighbour from Sant Antoni, is a businessman who spent
many years of his life as a merchant with agricultural products.
He bought almonds, carobs and other local
crops from local peasants, mostly for export, and has a deep
knowledge of these products and the actual situation within
Toni use to buy and sell around five hundred
tonnes of almonds a year and he has passed onto me a good
part of the information for these articles about the almond
He has quite a few anecdotes about almonds
and also has his own belief about how this tree reached our
Even this is a history that he heard from
his ancestors when he was a kid and doesn't remember it with
all the details, but - as nobody really knows how this happened
- his history may be as good as any other.
According to him, the almond tree was brought
to Eivissa in the very beginning of our history by a king
or a landlord of the place whose name is not remembered.
The king went away and came back from his
long trip with his young wife. Nobody knows where she was
from, but they lived happily in their big finca in Morna (near
Sant Carles, Northeast of Eivissa) until the winter came.
Then the young wife started to lose her
smile; she became dull and melancholic. "I feel so homesick
for my lovely winter snow", she said when her loving
husband asked her the reason for her sadness.
"I will bring the snow to you and I
will perfume it for you", said the king. So he went away
again and came back with thousands of young almond trees that
he planted in all the fields around the finca, from the hills
to the seaside.
We can still see plantations of this little
almond tree, with plenty of flowers and tiny almonds, not
worthwhile culturing commercially, near "Es Pou des Lleó",
Sant Carles. It was not until later that they found out the
fruit was a good aliment and had a very good flavour.
Romanticism is involved with the almond
tree blossom since the very beginning of its history.
One way or the other, the almond tree became
the most planted tree of our Islands and for about a hundred
and fifty years the almonds were one of the top products for
the Island's exports, with a relatively high price.
One third of the world's almond crop was
produced in Spain and the Balearic Islands had the largest
extension of almond tree plantations of all the Spanish provinces,
which means the largest almond crop of the entire world at
the time. Almonds produced one of the most significant incomes
for the local peasant and the Island's economy until the 1970s.
Then, with the arrival of the Californian almond into the
world's market, the demand for our fruit dropped drastically
and obviously the price dropped as well.
One of reasons for the California almond's
success (apart from its cheaper price) is the homogeneity
of its production - thousands of tonnes of the same kind of
almonds sold without the shell, just the selected grain, the
same size and the same chemical content, which makes its industrial
processing easier and cheaper, though the almond itself possesses
inferior qualities and less oil than most of our local varieties.
In the Pitiusas Islands there is a large
variety of almonds. Some of the varieties of almond tree only
function or develop a better crop with crossed pollination,
also with the pollen of the flowers of other varieties near
by. Some of them have been introduced more recently, within
the last century, but others have developed since immemorial
times and basically they only grow and are collected in our
In 1907, Dr. Pere Estelrich i Fuster, professor
of Agriculture of "l'Institut Balear" mentioned
in his book: "The almond tree and its culture in the
South-east of Spain and the Balearic Islands" - several
varieties that he considers to come exclusively from Eivissa.
These are "fita mollar" or "fita d'Eivissa"
- according to him the most important and the best of the
Island's production those days - or the "Eivissenca petita,"
a little almond the size of a hazel nut, which was used as
a garden tree for its flowers, rather then its small fruits.
Also "mollar grossa," that he considers exceptional
for the big size of its grain, "mollar de canal"
presented for the first time in 1897 by the Ibicenco farmer
Antonio Marí Torres in an agricultural exhibition in
Manacor (Mallorca) and "mollar blanca", etc.
It is very difficult to distinguish what
kind of almond it is just by the tree; the differences are
in the fruit, in the almond itself, especially in the consistency
of its woody shell when it is mature.
This is how we can distinguish three groups
of sweet almonds:
Hard shell (you need a hammer to crack them).
There are about ten or twelve of this group. The most common
are "llegal fort," "fort punta," "forta
botilera," "marcona" (one of the last varieties
to be introduced in the Island), "reginal" (very
hard shell and twin-grain) and "bernadina".
Medium-soft shell (they can be cracked with
the teeth, though it is not to be recommended) We have "patrona,"
"pau" (normally twin-grain), "fita" and
"fita bord" among others.
The soft-shells (easy to crack - sometimes
with the fingers). This is the most plentiful group. "Mollar
blanca," "mollar roig," "fita," "mollarica"
and "bec de corp," which used to be served, together
with dry figs as dessert, in old restaurants, with the shell
on because it is easy to break them open with your fingers),
"princesa" (one of the most wanted varieties for
export), "infanta" (middle-size tree and with low
production, but probably the best quality almond of all) and
"mollar mcia", etc.
All together there may be about thirty different
But the almond is not the only profit that
peasants used to get from their trees. Its very hard brown-red
wood is quite appreciated by ebonists, the leaf becomes cattle-food,
its first shell, like green velvet at the beginning, becomes
leathery and black when the almond is mature, used to be burned
in braziers to warm up the house and its ashes mixed with
rain water to produce home-made lye, the woody shell gets
ground and is use as fodder for animals.
And the flowers... The flowers are a real
gift from Nature to all of us, filling our winters with an
explosion of colours and sweet aromas, romanticism and poetry.
Tourists come more and more every winter just to be a witness
of this little miracle. The almond-tree-flower, just by itself,
should be enough to make the effort to save these trees; there
is no better incentive for the winter tourism.
Unfortunately, there is a serious risk of
this natural wonder disappearing in short or middle terms.
As Toni Ramunet says, the price of our first quality almond
is far too low (ten Euros per tree per year on average, the
equivalent of one hour of cheap labour), Yet it takes at least
three days labour per tree, all together, plus the use of
the land, before the peasant gets this money.
It is very understandable that the area
of almond tree plantations has reduced by twenty per cent
in the last thirty years. The only way that farmers can make
a bit of profit from the tree nowadays is by pulling it up
and selling it as timber for the fireplace. There is no future
for the old almond trees, not at the actual price of the almond.
(We can see nowadays how local farmers plant avocados or any
other exotic tree without flowers, which need to be watered
and require more care, in what use to be an almond field)
I'm one hundred per cent sure that if this
were happening in France, England, Germany or any other European
country, the politicians wouldn't allow this unnatural and
senseless disaster to happen. A fair price for our almonds
would be enough to stop it. Let's hope that our politicians
recover their common sense and start working for our own people
and they really try harder to save this natural wonder for
a better future in Eivissa-Formentera. (In the 1980s and 1990s,
the California almond selected grain was sold in USA markets
at about four dollars per kilogram; the rest of the production
was exported at half price to the rest of the world. In Spain,
thousands of tonnes of imported almonds were sold at two dollars,
four hundred pesetas at the time when our own selected grain
was almost a hundred pesetas more per kilo).
The funny thing is that there is a real
market for the Balearic almonds. They are used in many ways,
in Pharmacy, as medicines in general, especially for the skin,
in "milk" as an extra aliment for children. To produce
oil, used in many industries, cosmetics, perfumes, machinery,
food, etc. As an aliment there is a no end to the list of
the amount of sweets, cakes, drinks, plus a good amount recipes
in Spanish cookery done with this fruit, eaten raw or toasted
as an aperitif or with other dry fruits as dessert.
There's also the "Turrón"
industry, a real delicacy mainly in the "Pais Valencià"
(Alicante, Jijona), invented by the Moors when they were in
Spain (from the VIII till the end of the XV centuries). It
is basically ground almonds, sugar, honey and eggs and thousands
of tonnes are exported every year. There is not a real Christmas
for Spanish families anywhere in the world without "Turrón".
Here we have our ancestral "Salsa de
Nadal" (Christmas sauce) done with the same ingredients
as turrón, boiled in water or broth, perfumed with
saffron and sometimes other spices. In terms of tradition,
it is our equivalent Christmas dessert to plum pudding, but
like a thick liquid.
One of our most appreciated desserts used
to be - and still is for some - a plate of almonds, dry figs,
fresh goats' cheese and honey. Can you imagine eating this
dish while admiring an almond tree plantation in blossom?
We still can do it. You are very welcome to join us. If you
do, I hope you will also join us in a prayer to save the almond
tree, with dignity, with a fair price for its production.
Almond Trees in Blossom
Antonio Ramon Torres (Toni de Can
Different Sizes of Almonds
All Pictures © Copyright
José P Ribas