I am nuts about nuts. I love to eat them, but even more so I love to cook with them ~ then eat them. Given the chance, I could spend on nuts what others spend at a coffee shop, easily and regularly. I can’t decide if walnuts or hazelnuts are my favourite*.
When we moved to our new home, we discovered in that first autumn that we have both in hazelnt and walnut trees in our garden. (Lucky us!) I felt like a kid in a sweet shop with the biggest smile on my face.
In the past, we have only ever purchased nuts from a store. Having the chance to forage, collect and prepare had me bouncing with excitement.
Every morning, when I go to let the ducks out of the duck enclosure, I take along my empty basket. Then, on hands and knees, forage under the hazelnut tree. It doesn’t take long for my basket to fill. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. In fact I have been foraging hazel nuts now for almost 2 months!
Our hazelnut tree is amazingly prolific. This year. It isn’t the case every year though. And I gather this is quite normal for hazelnuts. Walnuts tend to be more regular in their production, but hazlenuts have good and bad years. Last year, for example, not a nut. This year, our bounty spilleth over.
In fact, not just our tree, but all the trees in the village too. There are two amazing trees on either corner of our little supermarkets car park. They are amazing producers, even sometimes in off years. Whenever I go to do some shopping, I take a long a plastic bag in my pocket and collect en-route. And I am not the only one.
It is only a matter of a few weeks to let the nuts dry. Much shorter than walnuts. I found a number of recommendations on the wonderful internet on how to crack them open. The best I came across was using a large plastic ziploc bag, placing the bag on a hard floor surface and tapping the nuts with a mallet.
At first I would hit too hard and pulverise the shell, and consequently the nut within. (Though I was still able to extract some for use.) With a bit of practise I have become very adept at tapping just so and splitting the hard shell.
And since nothing goes to waste here, the ’empty’ broken shells are then put out in the bottom garden for the birds and squirrels to forage through. They always managed to find a few tasty morsels I had missed or were too small for my use.
Once I complete a bag, I extract the nuts from the shells and put them on a baking sheet and into a low temperature oven to roast for about 20 – 30 minutes.
I don’t generally do all the nuts at once. (It does take a lot of time.) Rather, throughout the winter, as I run out of them, I will go through the process again from a basket of the nuts kept on our sideboard. And as and when mentality. It means the nuts stay fresher since they stay encased in their shells.
*Favourite Nut? Hmmm, I have to say I think walnuts just pip hazelnuts at the post, but only because they have a tiny bit more diversity, like Broccoli Stem Walnut Pesto.
Farm In My Pocket was the best site I found for information all around on hazelnuts if you are thinking of growing your own tree and/or harvesting.
And PS, hazelnut trees grow very easily. And very fast! Though it takes a number of years for maturity to produce the nuts stage. However, in the meantime, their branches are perfect to use for wattling fences!
Cooking with hazlenuts is simple. Most often I simply toss in a few to a veggie dish to add a bit of flavoursome crunch. Here’s some of my favourite recipes made from Hazlenuts:
Oh, and now walnut foraging season has begun, too. Time to get out and collect this years walnuts for the year.