Father Serra Goes to California

Image courtesy freerepublic.comBy Christopher Zoukis

Almonds were introduced to America by Miquel Josep Serra iFerrer, who was born in Majorca, Spain.  When he finally arrived in California, he was Fray Junipero Serra, a priest in the Order of St. Francis.  He came to California to administer the missions on the Baja California Peninsula.  This system of missions had been founded by the Jesuits, who, because of their political intrigues, had just been forcibly kicked out of “New Spain” by King Carlos III. 

Father Serra brought along a bag of almond plantings, which he planted and attempted to grow.  His attempts failed, because the damp coastal fogs and high humidity of the area were not favorable to almond cultivation. 

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The Brief History of a Nut

By Christopher Zoukis

As early as 4000 BC, domesticated almonds were produced and available as a nutritious food.  The Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, circa 1325 BC, enjoyed almonds so much that he was buried with them.  Almonds imported from the Levant were discovered in his tomb.   Image courtesy golona.blogspot.com

Mentioned many times in the Bible, the almond has had symbolic significance not only to Christians, but to other cultures and religions as well.  To Christians, the nut represented divine favor and divine approval.  And it spoke of the Virgin Mary’s purity, which explained the almond’s presence around the Queen of Heaven in famous works of art, where it was called the vesica piscis.  The Chinese attached the ideas of feminine beauty, fortitude in sorrow and watchfulness to the almond.  While to the Iranians, the almond represented the Tree of Heaven.  And the ancient Phrygians considered the almond the Father of all things, because it was associated with the birth of Attis.  The Romans, on the other hand, believed that almonds imparted the blessings of the gods to any public or private event.  This explained why the Romans threw almonds and not rice at newlyweds.  And, as later evidenced, the Romans discovered a more nefarious use for almonds.  One that had nothing to do with blessing.

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Introduction of a Nut

By Christopher Zoukis

Almonds were introduced to America by Miquel Josep Serra iFerrer, who was born in Majorca, Spain.  When he finally arrived in California, he was Fray Junipero Serra, a priest in the Order of St. Francis.  He came to California to administer the missions on the Baja California Peninsula.  This system of missions had been founded by the Jesuits, who, because of their political intrigues, had just been forcibly kicked out of “New Spain” by King Carlos III. 

Father Serra brought along a bag of almond plantings, which he planted and attempted to grow.  His attempts failed, because the damp coastal fogs and high humidity of the area were not favorable to almond cultivation.  Image courtesy sfmuseum.net

Meanwhile, far across America, ranchers in New England and the Middle Atlantic States decided to try and grow almonds commercially.  At the same time, down in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado other ranchers were making the same attempt.  These ranchers thought that almonds should grow wherever peaches did.  It seemed only natural, since they were genetically similar.  It didn’t work.  Almonds bloom early and late frosts destroyed the harvests.  And if the frost didn’t get the almonds, because of the relative high humidity, disease did.  The venture was discarded as a waste of time.

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