Tag Archives: France

Almonds

Though Prunus amygdalus is, as its name hints, a close relative of plums, as well as peaches, you’ll never eat this tree’s fruit. For this drupe (the technical name for fruit with stones, such as plums and cherries), life is the pits. Literally. The fruit of this native of southwestern Asia becomes leathery as it matures, and splits open when ripe, exposing the world’s most popular nut, the almond.

Actually, there are two types of almond—sweet and bitter. The bitter almond is used primarily for flavoring, but it is the sweet almond that we eat. The sweet almond, which is almost as famous for its beautiful white flowers as for its nuts, closely resembles the related peach.

The almond probably started in Asia Minor, but it was on the move so early that it is hard to be precise about where its roots truly lie. It is believed that almonds, along with dates, were among the earliest cultivated foods. Almonds have been found on the island of Crete, at the Neolithic level under the palace of Knossos and in Bronze Age storerooms at Hagia Triada. The almond was written of by the Babylonians, Anatolians (who used it largely for oil), and Hittites, and, along with the pistachio, is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

The Greeks were the first to grow almonds in Europe. The Greek scholar, Theophrastus, mentions in his history of plants, written about 300 BC, that almond trees were the only trees in Greece that produced blossoms before leaves. The Romans, who referred to almonds as “the Greek nut,” brought almonds to Italy around 200 BC The Romans used almonds primarily in the form of sweets, but also used ground almonds to thicken and flavor sauces. Actually, ground almonds have never lost their popularity as a thickener. Continue reading

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Filed under culinary history, Culture, Drink, Food, Geography, History, Language

Fields of War

It’s probably because I enjoy and often write about history that I’ve ended up with a lot of friends who are also focused on history. As mentioned earlier, I have a cousin who has written about World War II in Italy. I have an old friend who is one of the world’s leading authorities on Napoleon Bonaparte, and while he doesn’t have a book out, he has published dozens of other people’s books. One acquaintance has written an excellent travel guide to American Civil War sites.

Unusual among these folks is Robert Mueller, because even though his book focuses on a specific region (France and Belgium), it does not focus on one war, but rather spans the centuries, sharing the key battles that have marked this landscape and directed its history.

Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium is a travel guide, as well as a history book. It guides readers to the monuments and battlefields of turning points in Europe’s history, from the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) through World War II. The many national awards the book has won — including the Military Writers Society of America 2010 Bronze Medal in the Travel Category — are testament to its scholarship and usefulness. One can almost imagine the millions of warriors who have fought as Mueller guides the readers across the places these key battles occurred.

If you have any interest in military history, and especially if you’re planning a trip to Europe, you definitely want to buy this book. You can go straight to Amazon to order it, or you can first visit Mueller’s excellent blog, French Battlefields. If you didn’t want to travel before, you will probably want to once you’ve visited his site or read his book. Definitely recommended.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Geography, History, Travel