Sunday, March 4, 2012

Early Signs of Spring in Provence

Almond Blossoms-Vincent van Gogh
In many parts of the world- Spain, Sicily, Morocco, Israel, California, the first signs of spring come in February and early March when the almond trees are in bloom. In Provence too, fields are awash in virginal pink and white almond tree blossoms. This was so lovingly represented by Vincent van Gogh when he painted upon his arrival in Arles in 1888 a series of almond blossoms. He particularly liked to depict blossoming trees as this represented life, renewal and hope. In early 1890, after hearing of the birth of his nephew, son of his brother Theo, he painted Almond Blossoms as a celebration of this new life. The painting depicts tree branches in a blue sky and was meant as gift to the new parents. Almond tree was introduced in southern France in the 5th. century B.C. by the Greeks. It was heavily cultivated until the 1930s when farmers uprooted the trees in order to plant more profitable crops. In recent years, the decline in almond production has been reversed as new trees are replanted especially in the orchards of upper Provence. After spring bloom, fresh almonds are harvested in June and are used to make confection and pastry like marzipan and calissons. Dried almonds with their bitter flavor are collected in October. Properties of almond are beneficial in beauty products too- its oil and milk are good to soften skin and the shell can be finely crushed and used to gently exfoliate it. My favorite almond confection is the florentine cookie here is a simple recipe I would like to share:
 Florentine Cookies--
 In a saucepan melt 1/2 stick of butter; 2/3 cup o sugar; 3/4 cup of heavy cream--
Bring to a boil--
Take off heat and stir in 1/2 cup of flour and 6 oz of sliced almonds--
 Cool the batter for 20-30 minutes, stirring it occasionally--
 For each cookie, place 2 teaspoons of batter on your Florentine Pan or baking sheet, spacing evenly apart (remember, the cookies will spread). Flatten the batter slightly with a fork or your wet finger--
 Bake the cookies at 375 degree until they are lacy and golden brown, about 20 minutes--
 Gently place the cookies on a cooling rack and let them cool completely--
 Spread melted chocolate on one side of each cooled cookie--
Place in the refrigerator to harden--

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