The Mediterranean region provides inspiration for many of the things I make with almonds. In that almond-growing region, there is a tradition of eating immature fruits and nuts that we don’t hear too much about in the U.S. let alone the Northeast where I live. (Although Turkeywood Farms in Mystic, CT is distilling shagbark hickory to make a sweet syrup I love.) This is my signature spirit, Digestivo Mandorlato – Priscilla’s Green Almond Liqueur

Think of pickled plums or nocino, the green walnut liqueur from Italy. It’s easy to imagine the scene – a small farm, maybe with a cottage orchard outback or nearby. There’s little available in the local market in dark January. The fruit and nut trees start to bloom long before the weather improves and soon something green appears. That little bud looks awfully inviting. You give it a nibble and get a burst of slightly sour crunch. The raw taste contrasts nicely with the blandness of such winter diet staples as boiled tubers, pulses, root crops and preserved meat if any.

Well that’s how I imagine it. Jump forward and there are dozens of traditional ways to handle immature fruit and nuts from the bark to the root.  My favorite is in a liqueur, digestif or digestivo, potent spirits to savor after a meal. It lasts indefinitely, preserving the freshness of spring in my glass.

Priscilla's Green Almond Digestivo

You’ll need at least a pound and a half of green almonds, more if you get ambitious and plan to make a large batch.  From March through April, you’ll find then in farmer’s markets in California, at Middle Eastern and other specialty grocers or online from Stewart and Jasper, who kindly sent me this season’s crop.

To make the liqueur, start by washing then air drying the green almonds to avoid contamination. (I learned the hard way that mold does grow in alcohol.) Use large-mouth canning jars and sterilize them before you start.

Trim off the little brown stem. Quarter the green almonds then add flavorings and neutral spirits.  Blood orange rind, vanilla and a small amount of sugar are my only flavorings. Sometimes I add coriander seeds or cardamom.  If you like that almond-extract taste — something more akin to ratafia or crème de noyau, the kind of almond liqueurs sold in France — you could add four or five bitter almonds.   (But the problem is finding that rare ingredient.  Because bitter almonds contain amygdalin, which turns into toxic hydrogen cyanide, they may not be cultivated in the US.)  Apricot kernels, easily found in a Chinese grocery, would work well.  But I am a fan of the bright fresh taste of my combination.

Adding flavorings to jar for green almond liqueur

Cover the almonds with a neutral spirit like grain alcohol or vodka.  I prefer grain alcohol but, because of its high proof, you must dilute your liqueur by 50% before drinking it otherwise your guests will become mute after a few sips.  Let your concoction sit in a cool dark place for three to ten months. During this time, the alcohol extracts any flavors from the green almonds and added ingredients.

Green Almonds with sugar for liqueur

As the mixtures sits, the sugar dissolves and you’re left with a potent, evocative green liquid.  I strain out the almonds and reserve them to serve over vanilla ice cream. I store the digestivo in a large jar.  Then when the spirit moves me, I pour the drink into small bottles and seal with wax or decorative stoppers to share with friends.

 

Pure Green almond liqueur after strainingCapped bottles of Priscilla's green almond liqueur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serve the digestive well chilled and diluted neat or over ice.  A presto!

Digestivo Mandorlato – Priscilla’s Green Almond Liqueur

Yield: 1 quart

Digestivo Mandorlato – Priscilla’s Green Almond Liqueur

Imported almond liqueurs usually have a distinct bitter almond note. Ratafia and crème de noyau, for example, are delicious flavorings to add to ice cream, cake batters or fruit salad.

This homemade liqueur is quite different. It has a fresh green quality both in flavor and color. I call it a digestivo, a digestive to be savored after a rich meal. Make it with vodka and you can drink it neat. Make it with grain alcohol, as I do, and you need to dilute it by half before drinking straight. A little goes a long way.

Reserve the green almonds you've strained out of the liqueur to serve over vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds green immature almonds
5 ounces granulated sugar
Zest of two organic blood oranges, pith removed
2 vanilla beans, split
1 teaspoon coriander seeds or green cardamom pods, optional
32 fluid ounces grain alcohol or vodka

Directions

  1. Place the green almonds in a colander. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. Drain them well then spread the green almonds out onto a baking sheet lined with clean paper towels. Let the green almonds dry thoroughly then quarter them using a sturdy chef’s knife.
  2. Sterilize a 1 ½-quart (1500 ml) canning jar or its equivalent by submerging it in a large pot of boiling water. Let the jar, its lid and gaskets, if any, boil gently for several minutes. Carefully lift the jar from the water and place it upright on a clean towel to drain.
  3. Pour the sugar into the sterilized jar. Add half of the quartered green almonds, some of the pieces of orange zest, the split vanilla beans and coriander seeds, if using. Top with the rest of the green almonds and flavorings. Add the grain alcohol or vodka. Cover the open jar with a double layer of plastic wrap. Clap or screw down the jar’s lid.
  4. Shake the jar vigorously to distribute the sugar throughout the mixture. Place the jar in a cool dark place.
  5. Visit your concoction once a month or so and shake it vigorously to distribute the sugar. After the third or fourth visit, the liqueur will take on a deep green hue and pronounced taste. Let the almonds steep in the alcohol for at least three up to ten months.
  6. Strain the alcohol into a clean jar. Bottle it into smaller jars sealed with decorative stoppers.
  7. Serve the digestivo, chilled with equal parts cold water with or without ice.