Ever since he was a little boy, Pedro Watler, 56, has loved to crack almonds.
His mother Veleen had trouble keeping enough almonds around to make almond candy because the nuts proved irresistible for her son as he popped one after the other in his mouth.
“We didn’t know nothing about the health benefits those days. Besides tasting good, getting us out of the house and into the bushes, cracking almonds was a pastime we spent hours enjoying,” Mr. Watler said.
While sitting in the park with other childhood friends one afternoon, Mr. Watler and his pals deemed it a shame that a district once so full of cultural traditions seemed to be losing them and they came up with the idea to teach people about the rich heritage of Cayman’s native fruits, foods and activities by hosting get-together nights at Harry McCoy Park.
Since discussing the idea, the small group has collected thousands of almond seeds from around the park. These will be cracked opened, which is pretty easy to do if done the correct way.
To open, grasp the almond at the point, turn it to the side that has a “seam” and strike it with a hammer three times until you hear a “plop.” Stop, put down the hammer and pry open the shell to get to the sweet tasting almond kernel.
Experiencing a longing for almonds one recent weekend, I joined the childhood friends under the trees of Harry McCoy Park and went to work cracking almond seeds.
I found cracking almonds can be very therapeutic and relaxing, and eating them is delicious.
Apart from tasting good, almonds are good for the body. They are filled with carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and essential minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Perhaps the greatest health benefit of almonds is that they contain monounsaturated fat, which helps reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body.
The group wants to share this Cayman tradition with others. If you are anywhere within the vicinity of Harry McCoy park in Bodden Town, drop by and share with these locals some Cayman traditions, or even your own, for a night of homegrown goodness.
According to “Wild Trees of the Cayman Islands” by Fred Burton, almonds are not native to Cayman. The Indian Almond is native to tropical Asia, but has been planted widely in tropical regions around the world.
In Cayman, it has taken to the wild, growing particularly successfully in sandy beach ridges, where it is now a common sight among the native seagrape. It can be found on all three of the Cayman Islands.
Although these trees are an introduced species in the Cayman Islands, they continue to support and nourish Cayman wildlife. Fruit bats are particularly fond of the fruit and may carry it several miles before consuming the outer flesh and releasing the intact nut.
The tree is closely related to our rare Black Mastic. Like the Mastic, it is a favorite food of the Yellow-Belly Sap Sucker, a woodpecker that creates neat rows of holes in the trunks as it drills for sap. However, almond trees also attract rodents, which collect and store the fruit in the vicinity, and the shedding leaves often create weekly gardening woes for homeowners, according to Burton.
In years gone by, some superstitious Caymanians refused to plant this tree in their yards believing it attracted “duppies” or mischievous spirits that would torment them.
Though the almond tree has been widely used as an ornamental plant because of its tiered pagoda shape, it has numerous other benefits.
The large leaves were traditionally used to cover baking bread, to prevent burning, and the buds have been used as a component of a tea used to treat high blood pressure (combined with aloe, breadfruit leaf and banana skin).