Welcome to ammond season

With the shakers comes a craving for Maisie Jane's

Almond season is already upon us. I know this well, as my bedroom window faces an almond orchard and I've just begun hearing those big tractors—the strange-looking ones with arms—shaking the “L” out of 'em, as dear old John Bidwell apparently said. I wonder what they used to shake them back in his day …

Anyway, the shaking—and the almonds it produces—reminds me of my time in Montélimar, France, also known as the Nougat Capital of the World. That small, medieval town just north of Provence produces 75 percent of France's nougat, which is made in a wide variety of flavors and almost always contains almonds. During a tour of a nougat factory one afternoon, I asked the guide where their almonds came from. You guessed it, Northern California. It's a small, small world.

Back here in Chico, we have quite an affinity for nuts of all kinds, but the almond—OK, I'll call it an “ammond”—takes the prize for most-loved. So, with the orchards in my view, I took a short walk from my house to one of Chico's gems of a gift shop, Maisie Jane's California Sunshine Products, wondering all the while why I hadn't done so till now.

Upon walking into the shop, I became instantly mesmerized by all the bright, somewhat kitschy signs and other kitchen and garden décor. I noticed Mary Lake-Thompson's recipe towels wrapped around ingredients and forming the perfect gift. (I discovered Lake-Thompson a while back, when I found a recipe towel for noodle kugel I just couldn't pass up. She's from Oroville—look her up!)

At this point, I was greeted by a delightful woman who offered to show me around. She brought me to the tasting table, where an array of mostly Maisie Jane original products were on offer, including, of course, her flavored and chocolate-covered almonds. The dark chocolate is to-die-for, by the way. Then there's the almond butter and hazelnut spread (a lot like Nutella, just not as sweet). I also liked the Sutter Buttes chocolate sauce. Yum.

As I made my way around the food display, I learned that Maisie Jane's separates itself from many of the bigger nut producers by dry oven-roasting its almonds. Many other companies, the saleswoman told me, use oil during the process. Another point of pride is that M.J. won't put anything in her recipes “that you can't pronounce.” Sounds like a pretty good rule of thumb to me.

The only thing I was looking for in the shop that I just couldn't find? Nougat. Maybe next time …