Organic Andalusian almonds suspended in zesty caramel
‘Mindfulness’ is a term we hear a lot at this time of year—a time to take stock, appreciate what we have and be generous not just in our giving of gifts, but with our time and in our charity; to be mindful of our impact on others, and the environment. Charles Tebbutt, the knowledgeable trader at Food and Forest, does so with vigour year-round, sourcing organic sweet and savoury nuts with the utmost consideration for the environment and local economies, without compromise and with foresight.
Central to his philosophy is agroforestry “which essentially means the incorporation of trees into the environment,” Charles explains. The almonds in question come from a farm in Andalusia, where “it’s common practice to plough the area between trees every six months, whether it needs it or not. The problem with that is it loosens the soil, depleting it of nutrients and affecting its ability to store water. And because it’s such an arid area, there’s a serious risk of desertification.”
This particular farmer, however, has introduced gullies to increase natural water retention and planted perennial herbs between the rows of almond trees, “which aggregate the soil, meaning it holds together better,” Charles continues. “The herbs are also beneficial for the insect population and act as a summer pollen source for bees.”
The farmer calls it ‘regenerative agriculture’, referring not just to its ecological benefits, but social ones. “It’s a return of hope and inspiration for the people there,” says Charles. “Large areas of Spain are real deserts and urbanisation is increasing. This method of farming provides a viable source of employment for farmers. We give them a higher rate than usual, too, which creates financial incentive”—which is all well and good, but what about the flavour? Well, grown, harvested and produced with love and attention, the almonds are sweet and buttery, with excellent crunch. “The skins are thinner and lighter than you usually get, too, with none of that bitterness.”
If that weren’t enough—for now is the time to gild the proverbial lily, if ever there was one—Charles has suspended them in homemade caramel, in a delicious take on peanut butter brittle. “We buy in all the ingredients raw, direct from the farmer, and make the glaze ourselves,” he explains.
“It’s quite a specific process: you caramelise the sugar, take it up to temperature, then add in some syrup. One of the problems in confectionary cooking is the presence of protein in the nuts, which can cause the sugars to crystallise. The syrup stops it doing that.” The nuts are added when the sugar reaches about 115C, “then we add a little bit of salt, vanilla and orange essence just at the end—if you add it too early, the flavour just evaporates—and blend in a tiny bit of Quickes salted butter to give it a rich, rounded finish.” Snap it off by the chunk, sip a crisp cava, and revel in the virtues of this not-so-guilty pleasure.