Nuts About Nuts
One thing is for sure, I’m never the first to spot a good harvest of hazelnuts in the hedges. As I walk along the country lanes looking and checking for blackberries, damsons, rose-hips and mushrooms, I’ll also be checking amongst the hazel branches for this years crop of nuts. This year has been a good one for the hazel family and the branches are dotted with little clusters of potential Ferrero Rocher!
Long before I notice the nutty little gems, unfortunately the local squirrels (all of them) are already well on the case! For me, the equivalent of a nut alarm is discovering mounds of already cracked, opened and eaten shells along the lanes beneath overhanging branches. This little scenario can happen anytime from mid August onwards, long before the nuts have fully matured and developed a good, deep nutty flavour. There is no solution, other than to pick early and enjoy them as they are, on the green side! The advantage of early picking, other than beating the squirrel at his or her own game, is the much softer shell. These can almost be cracked by a good and firm set of teeth, though if you’ve any expensive crowns, bridges or dentures I still recommend a nut cracker!
Hazelnuts are by far the most common wild nut, although there are a few others. The hazelnut (corylus avellana) grows wild on poorer land and hillsides, however they are often found in hedgerows alongside birch, beech, oak, dogwoods and hawthorn. Although we find plenty of wild hazelnuts in Carmarthenshire, the larger cobnut is only really commonly found in Kent.
A Kentish cobnut is a type of hazelnut. Most of the hazelnuts grown in Britain are of the named variety Kentish Cob, which was introduced in the early 19th century.
Unlike most nuts, Hazelnuts, cobnuts and filberts are marketed fresh, not dried like walnuts and almonds. Consequently, they can usually only be bought when in season, which is from about the middle of August through to October, but stored nuts can keep until Christmas. The filbert by the way, is another type of hazelnut grown in the UK, chosen mainly for commercial cultivation.
Once you’ve had enough of cracking wild nuts with your teeth and eating a sort of raw nut, you can progress to drying them! To do this you need to shell the nuts and place them on a baking tray. Bake or dry in the oven at 180˚C for about 10 minutes. This should be enough to deepen the flavour of the nut. Allow them to cool and then season with a sprinkling of salt, and enjoy.
Nature has a wonderful timing, the glut of garden vegetables has definitely been and gone, and what remains are now starting to look rather sad for themselves. In their stead came the blackberries, and now that they are almost finished, they are replaced by wonderful hazelnuts. When you are out and about, you will notice the amazing crop of sloes, perfect for making a boozy Christmas tipple. Take an extra bag for all these extra goodies you’re bound to find.
HAZELNUTS - The Facts
- The hazelnut is the single-seeded fruit of the hazel tree, which grows to a height of 7 m. Hazelnuts are shell fruit (nut types) & the nut ripens from mid-August.
- The edible kernel within consists of delicious-tasting hard flesh enclosed in a brownish seat coat.
- The hazelnut kernel is surrounded by a brown seed coat, which contains antioxidants which protect the oil-rich seed from atmospheric oxygen, preventing it from becoming rancid.
- To harvest them, sheets of cloth are laid beneath the trees and the branches of the trees are then shaken. The nuts are subsequently dried in a well-ventilated place.
- Cobnuts were popular with mariners, as they kept fresh for months; the Victorians were devoted to them and bred many new kinds.
- In 1913, plantations extended to over 7,000 acres, most of the orchards or “plats” being in Kent.
- Fortunately cobnuts are NOT prone to pests and diseases, and there is rarely any commercial need for crop protectants or fertilisers; many growers use none at all.
Are hazelnuts good for you??
12%-17% protein by weight
10%-15% by weight of fibre
They are rich in vitamin E and calcium containing about 21mg and 141mg per 100g kernel (dry weight)
They are high in vitamin B1 (o.4mg) and B6 (o.55mg) again, by dry weight