Ark of Taste
Princess Almond (Ladies Thin Shell Almond)
Prunus dulcis v. Princess
This medium-sized, great flavored, heirloom almond variety has an unusually paper-thin inner shell, which is easy to open, and is one of the finest of the rare almond varieties brought to America in the late 1800’s.The Princess almond was brought to America when Felix Gillet, a young frenchman, began cultivating fruit and nut trees in the 1870’s to 1880’s when he realized that miners arriving in California in the wake of the Gold Rush desperately needed food. He imported his favorite varieties from Europe and opened his Barren Hill Nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush. However, because of difficulty in commercial harvesting, the Princess almond trees were taken out and replanted or re-grafted, often with the Nonpareil almond variety. However, the Princess almond did prove superior as a cultivar for home orchard production.
The Princess almond is very productive, resistant to mites, Navel Orange Worm and Peach Twig Borer. The Princess almond is similar in flavor to the Nonpareil, the premier almond in California production today. It is full-bodied, sweet and pleasant. Before the development of Nonpareil variety, this was a favorite dessert almond used in pastries and eaten raw as a snack. Felix Gillet’s Barren Hill Nursery Catalogue of 1885 describes the Princess or Ladies Thin Shell variety as common in the shops of confectioners, where it was extensively used in the manufacturing of certain cakes and candies; it was also the kind most esteemed for dessert. The shell is so thin that it can be crushed between one's fingers revealing a fat, sweet, and rich kernel.
It is truly an ancient heirloom favorite, in danger of being forgotten and lost forever. There are few of these trees still alive. As of 2013, only one of these old trees remained in full production, with its branches heavily loaded with nuts. In the Sierra Nevada, almonds rarely come to fruition, but this approximately 130-year-old tree was in its prime. It had been abandoned for decades and is now being rehabilitated and irrigated.
Almonds can be grown organically and easily as proven by the last remaining tree which has grown for nearly a century without any cultivation. Part of the reason that this variety went out of commercial production in the 1900’s is because it was an unreliable bearer for farm scale, however, it is an excellent choice for home production.