Savour Willunga Almonds Stories + Recipes with Helen Bennetts »

More to discover at Willunga on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula

By Jennifer Fearn
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<i>Willunga Almonds Stories + Recipes</i> by Helen Bennetts

Willunga Almonds Stories + Recipes by Helen Bennetts [©Wakefield Press]


Certain regions are synonymous with specific produce. Such pairings can give rise to books that not only capture the essence of a product, but also illustrate a locale that may have otherwise slipped under the radar. The Fleurieu is noted for its wines, but it also has a long history of almond growing, especially around Willunga in the McLaren Vale.

In this regard, Helen Bennetts’ Willunga Almonds - Stories + Recipes is much more than a collection of family favourite recipes coupled with over a hundred years of regional history. It showcases Willunga with horticulture, history, health and culture given equal attention.

Willunga, a town of around 2,500 people, is approximately one hour’s drive south of Adelaide. With a warm, frost-free Mediterranean climate, it is no surprise that it is also home to olive groves, vineyards and other members of the Prunus genus. It is speculated that almonds have been grown in the region since the first Europeans settled in the area. However, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that commercial scale production began.

Globally, almonds have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. Unlike many other varieties of fruit tree, they can be grown from seed so may have originated before the discovery of grafting.

Selective breeding had to be done carefully however, as many wild varieties contained cyanide, a bitter and deadly toxin. Post domestication, almonds are sweet and associated with marriage, fertility and regrowth amongst other things – thankfully quite the opposite to poisoning your enemy! Examples derived from this folklore can be found in many of the recipes in the book.

The recipe portion of the book (approximately 40 pages) is divided into sections: Basics, Starters, Soups + Sauces, Meat, Fish and Vegetables, Desserts, Cakes and Biscuits.

A standout recipe is Torta de Santiago (p 116), a traditional Easter cake which takes inspiration from the almond as a symbol of regeneration. This moist and beautifully decorated cake based on ground almonds would make an impressive accompaniment to high tea or coffee at any time of year. 

Most people I know have fond associations with Almond Bread (p 124). For me, this was my paternal grandmother’s staple and served to us on every visit with a handful of raisins. Imagine my delight in finding this recipe and baking it fresh for my own children. I always wondered how she managed to cut the slices so thin – now I know!

Aside from the sweet things, Willunga Almonds Stories + Recipes contains several savoury dishes which feature almonds as a key ingredient. Apricot and Almond Pilav (p88) features two of the region’s signature ingredients and is extenuated by the addition of orange rind and Middle Eastern spices. A light and fluffy dish, with great texture and juxtaposition of sweetness and spice.

Adding merit to this fine collection of recipes is the potential use of almond as a health product due its ‘superfood’ status. It’s postulated health benefits date back to Ancient Greek times and almonds have also been utilised medicinally by the Chinese. Interestingly, both cultures used almonds to treat coughs.

Willunga is also home to the annual Almond Blossom Festival in late July, held at the Willunga Recreation Park, which celebrates the beautiful annual flowering of the almond trees surrounding the town. 

So, with winter coming on, it’s time to venture to Willunga and explore the almond groves and admire the blossoms, or at least to my local grocer, to stock up on almonds and get baking. Any excuse to eat cake for health reasons is fine by me!


Read the media release for Willunga Almonds »

Willunga Almonds by Helen Bennetts is published by Wakefield Press (Mile End, SA, Dec 2016; Hb,152pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$39.95.. It is from good bookstores and directly from the publisher here »

Remember VisitVineyards' subscribers receive a 20% discount books from Wakefield Press! Click here to find out more »

You can also find it online via »


Reviewed by Jennifer Fearn, a sience teacher in Hobart, dedicated foodie, art and wine lover, avid cookbook reader, writer and fabulous home cook. 


  • McLaren Vale (SA)

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