As I board the Amtrak train I begin to daydream about the treats that Sacramento has in store for me. I'm venturing to the birthplace of the familiar Blue Diamond Almond Growers brand, now a factory and visitor's center just one mile from the Sacramento Hostel. After reading that California supplies 80% of the world's almonds I'm curious to see where the hub of the almond industy got its start, as well as gain some product knowledge via the sample station!
Almond trees were first brought to California by Spaniards in the mid-1700s to be grown near their missions. Franciscan Padres planted them on the coast but they didn't do well in this wet, cool climate. Nearly a century later the trees had made their way inland and began to flourish in California's fertile Central Valley. By the early 1900s the almond industry was firmly rooted in the Sacramento and San Joaquin regions where growers began developing many of our main almond varieties. Today approximately 400 miles of crops in the lush Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are harvested each spring, providing almonds to over 90 countries.
My first Sacramento adventure was made in a rental car on I-80 -- a faster but less scenic alternative, not to mention the stress of traffic and parking. Amtrak's Capital Corridor speeds along the edge of the bay and into the heart of Northern California farmlands, allowing unique views of old waterfront factories, decaying docks, and magnificent waterways. The view from my window seat even inspired me to put together a little video.
Arriving in Sacramento, I head northeast of the train station to C Street, where I spot an expansive brick building with a sign out front reading "Blue Diamond Growers Nut & Gift Shop." I come to find out that the original Blue Diamond Almond Growers factory was built in this location in 1914 for a mere $5,500. The back doors of the one-story building opened onto the railroad tracks, where burlap sacks of almonds could easily be received from nearby farms, loaded into wooden boxes, and shipped around the country. Back then the almonds were sold for retail in glass jars, or by the barrel to ice cream manufacturers.
The Blue Diamond visitor's center is full to the brim with interesting almond history, including a video about the harvesting process and a replica of an almond sheller from the original factory. Venturing into the gift shop I find samples galore, including the Bold Flavors section -- Rosemary and Black Pepper, Habanero Barbeque, Honey Dijon, Lime 'n Chili, Jalapeno Smokehouse, Salt 'n' Vinegar, and Wasabi & Soy Sauce. Perusing the shop I read about how almonds are a great source of vitamin E, fiber, protein, calcium, and riboflavin, as well as being cholesterol-free. This makes my sampling of 12+ flavors (some multiple times, to be sure) much easier to justify. The visitor's center is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Throughout my visit the staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable, along with having a great sense of humor. I decide to buy some Habanero BBQ almonds, Rosemary and Black Pepper almonds, and a box of their new Artisan Nut-Thins. As I turn to leave a friendly worker pipes up, "One more thing. Outside along the street, those are all almond trees, if you want to take a look." Sure enough as I step outside I see a row of blossoming trees that I somehow missed on the way in. A perfect end to one of the most unique tours I've ever been on. I watch the pinkish white flowers drift down into the street like falling snow and know I'll never look at an almond quite the same.
This story was written by Nicky Tait, the Marketing and Communications Intern for HI's Northern California hostels. When she's not in the office you can find her in Berkeley drinking tea and reading Douglas Adams.
Stay at the Sacramento Hostel, just 1 mile from the Blue Diamond Almond Growers factory.