Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/349

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335
ALMOND CULTURE IN CALIFORNIA.

bleached peaches, taken at meal-time, contain a poisonous or a medicinal dose of the acid? Remember, they are not sulphured ad lib. The consumer and the middle-man set the bounds. A distinctly susceptible sulphur taste hurts the peach in the market, and reacts on the grower. He is obliged to learn the art of securing a thorough bleach without the sulphur taste. To do this he must have the right kind of sulphur, and a very tight bleaching-box properly arranged inside; and he must know how much sulphur to put in, and how long to leave his fruit exposed to its fumes. The most experienced of my neighbors still differ widely on all these details. But I am convinced that, with proper facilities and proper skill and care, the bleaching may be made to entirely satisfy the eye of the consumer without injuring the rest of his body. I confess I should like to be still better satisfied on the point. But I console myself with the reflection that sulphur-smoke is a famous disinfectant, and must render the fruiteater less liable to all those diseases originating in germs, either microscopic or otherwise. Who knows but that a thorough scientific investigation, bacteriological as well as chemical, would prove the sulphur-poisoner to be, on the contrary, a conservator of the public health?

But whatever guilt the fumes of sulphur fasten upon the fruitgrower, the almond-grower is clear of; for he does not sulphur his fruit at all. What he sulphurs is but the shell that is thrown away that is, if he does his work properly. If he sulphurs while the nuts are green, or wets them too much just before sulphuring, the fumes may penetrate to the kernel; especially of very soft-shelled or paper-shelled almonds. But he gains nothing by it, not even in the appearance of his nuts, and does it from ignorance or inexperience rather than from policy. I tried this thoroughly, and by watching closely the result of each experiment was able to improve on the best advice my neighbors, old in the business, could give me. First, our old bleacher being too open, a new one was built. Then the almonds were made a little drier than they need be to go to market. Then the water was put on in the finest spray attainable, so that the nut was slightly but evenly dampened, but little if any more than enough to make up for the overdrying. Then the time of exposure to the fumes was regulated, not by the watch, but by the quantity of sulphur put into the pan, so that, whether we bleached in the daytime and took out one bleacherful to make room for another, or went to bed at night leaving the bleacher loaded and the sulphur burning, the nuts always got the same dose and no more. We kept on until we found the minimum of moisture and the minimum of sulphur that would do the business.

The nuts came out of the bleacher looking beautifully, all the