How To Knock The L (and the shell) Out Of An Almond

The joke I’m about to tell would be more suited for a story told in person, as the accent here is the key to the story. To be frank, though, in a story about a man like my great-grandfather, he’d tell me “as long as you laugh, then who cares.” Everyone always laughed when he said that, mostly because it was usually

followed by something remarkably not funny which made it even more ironic. I’m listening to an old 80s General Electric tape-recorder on which he talked about his whole life. I can hear the rasp of his voice that it is just a faint memory to me now. His raspy voices tells my Aunt Carolyn and Uncle David, one of his other sons, this joke: “an almond is an almond until I knock the living L out of it and then it’s an ahmond” (Stetson, D. 1982). He laughs so hard he can barely catch his breath while I can hear utter silence coming from his audience. I have to say though, there’s some kind of wonder about a person who doesn’t need anyone else to laugh at their jokes.

The tape catches and a few words are cut out, presumably all we missed though was someone telling him that wasn’t all that funny, only to be met with him telling them how little he cares. Aunt Carolyn reminds him that he’s supposed to be talking about his whole life on this tape, she also tells him that he better start at the beginning (Stetson, D. 1982). He sighs and I can almost hear him rolling his eyes. He then goes on to tell all about this almond ranch outside of Arbuckle, California, that he grew up on. It was between 15 and 20 acres large. On it sat rows and rows of almond trees, a barn with cows and pigs, a little house and an outhouse right behind it (Stetson, D. 1982). Inside that house– the real house, not the outhouse– lived a couple named Edward and Hattie and their children Willard and Dean. Willard was ten years Dean’s senior. Dean is my great-grandfather. He spent his childhood years tending to the ranch and cultivating the almonds from the trees (Stetson, C. 2019).

The most tumultuous time on the ranch occurred during the 1930s, generally the most tumultuous time for everyone in the country. Willard and Dean did the most amount of ranching and harvesting. Here in the tape is where I can hear Dean getting excited talking about his life. He goes through the whole almond farming process. They were grown on trees. He said this fact with the most minute, but obvious, tinge of sass in his voice. As if it were the most obvious fact in the whole world. Nowadays, the process of cultivating almonds is a lot easier than it was back then. Back then, they went around to every single tree and shook it until all the almonds fell out. Prior to this, they would go through the rows and lay down blue tarps (the same ones we can buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s today). Once the tarps were down, the fun started. They would go tree to tree and shake and shake until they couldn’t see any blue- just the light brown color of the almonds. Nowadays they have machines to shake the trees- if only he could see those. If there were almonds that didn’t fall down on their own, he would take a long blue pole stick it up and the tree and bang it around until the rest of the almonds came out. He said there was no real scientific process to this- you really did just bang the pole around up there (Stetson, D. 1982).

Once the almonds had all fallen, the next job was to get the casing off them. See, almonds have a soft, powder shell around them called a hull. My great-grandfather actually invented a little machine that would take the hull off of the almond that worked almost like a conveyor belt. At this point in the tape, he’s way too excited to explain the science behind the how he made the machine (Stetson, D. 1982). It only makes sense though as just a few years from now he would go on to Sacramento State college and earn a degree in engineering. This machine he made became the primary source of income in his household. Almond ranchers near and far– well, not too far because nobody could afford to travel, he said– would come and pay him so that he could take the hull off their almonds (Stetson, E., 2019).

Once the hulls were off the almonds, they would be sent to a factory for refining and distributing. Edward, my great-great-grandfather was a member of the Blue Diamond Almond group, meaning he sold all his almonds to them. Blue Diamond Almond Group are the number one distributor of almonds and today are still one of the most well-known brand name almond seller (Our History). In the thirties, though, a family couldn’t get welfare if there was a man in the house. The depression may not have hit Arbuckle as hard as some other places, but hardship still occurred. Edward left the ranch to go work in Utah as a cowboy, running cattle so that he could make some money and so that his family could collect some welfare. Dean, his son and my great-grandfather, was in his teens at this point and even though he was the younger of the two brothers, he took charge of most of the responsibilities on the ranch (Stetson, E., 2019). So, while his dad was gone, Dean was the one who had to contact the people at Blue Diamond and arrange the selling. This helped them to survive better than most other farmers. California farmers also made almost seventy percent more than farmers anywhere else during the thirties though (Geissler & Horwath, 2016). Although he didn’t know this at the time, he still says right on the tape that he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else during these years. At least they always knew they could feed themselves from their own ranch if they had to.

I don’t remember a lot about my great-grandpa, but I do remember that inside his house hung a small, framed picture of some random machine. It was a sketch so it wasn’t all that detail, but I always wondered what it was. Turns out it’s the thing he was most proud of, the machine that he invented. I guess you could say it made his whole process a lot easier– so much easier that he could happily knock the L out of ahhhhhmond trees.

Works Cited

Geissler, Daniel, and William R Horwath. Almond Production in California. UCDavis, June 2016, 

Goldhamer, David A., and Timothy E. Smith. “Single-Season Drought Irrigation Strategies

Influence Almond Production.” California Agriculture, vol. 49, no. 1, 1995, pp. 19–22., doi:10.3733/ca.v049n01p19.

“Our History | Our Story.” Blue Diamond,

Stetson, Carolyn. Personal Interview. 8 Feb. 2019.

Stetson, Dean. Recorder Interview. 1982.

Stetson, Edward. Personal Interview. 25 Mar. 2019.