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Cobnuts / Hazelnuts / Filberts

The sight of these bright green clusters on a walk never fails to excite me and you'll bet that I won't go forgetting the location of such a treasure once I've spotted one! They are a cultivated type of hazelnut but apparently not quite the same, in fact there are quite a few varieties but don't ask me to tell them apart. They're almost sweet, with a crunch reminiscent of freshly podded peas when eaten straight from the tree - which is what happens to most of what I gather! Their soft green shells can be deftly cracked with a careful bite but later in the season when they've browned and the flavour matures, the shell hardens so you'd better save your teeth and open them by a light tap with a hammer or rolling pin if you don't have nutcrackers. Take care not to crush the soft nut inside if using pliers.

I was introduced to them as a youngster, our neighbour had a massive tree positively dripping with nuts that reached out far across our shed roof – onto which my Dad would climb to retrieve that which the neighbour could not. I would stand below awaiting deliverance of the green sweeties, until I wore him down enough to let me climb up as well and get them for myself! It was also my Dad that showed me the technique to cracking the green nuts with my teeth, a feat that really looks more impressive than it is but to which my Mum will still turn away in horror to witness! Sorry Mum! :)

Hazel has been used for centuries, if not millennia, for it's strong and slender sticks as well as the nut crop. It's flexibility lends well to use in weaving, and the thicker stems are a good replacement for imported bamboo canes for supporting plants in the garden. It seems to do well anywhere that there are other trees and quickly sneaks it's straight stems through their growth to reach the light beyond meaning that it coppices well. I find its slender multi-stemmed growth is a good way to tell the tree apart from other similarly broad leaved trees.

The trick is to get to them before the squirrels and mice do yet resist the urge to gather them too early as there'll be nothing but a disappointing fluff inside during July! The outer shell develops to size first with the delicious nut growing to fit inside much later so wait until the husks begin to yellow at the end of August. They can be found up until around October - if the squirrels haven't cleaned up by then. The trees are cleaned out already around here, I managed to scrape together a small bag from carefully checking somewhere in the region of 30+ trees scattered around my local area! I'm guessing the further North you are, the later in the season you can find them but it all depends on those squirrels.

If you're too late to find any yourself then get down to some farmers markets and keep your eyes peeled. Kent is a good place to look since it's somewhat famous for it's own varieties and still boasts many acres of cultivated 'platts'. As for those growing amongst the hedgerows and stands of trees near the rest of us, like many 'wild' foods it's hard to say if they are really as wild as we think they are, not knowing who it was that planted it to begin with anyway – was it a farmer laying a boundary by design or has it spread naturally? I find it amusing to think that the very squirrels we're competing with may be the true cultivators of some of the trees...!


Cobnuts quickly deteriorate once fallen from the tree and any overly brown on the ground will probably be rotten or empty. Don't pick any nuts with a hole in them either since it means that a worm has already laid claim to it! This hole was hidden beneath the leafy crown so I missed it, but there's the worm - well Nut Weevil to be exact! :)



So what to do with these little delights of the hedgerow?

If you haven't eaten them all right there on the footpath then you can try adding them to anything you would hazelnut. They're nice tossed into a salad or onto pasta like pine nuts, scattered on top of cream cheese, ham, and rustic bread as an open sandwich, or include in the mix for our Carrot and Apple loaf – I did find some more apples whilst I was hunting for the nuts so that would be ideal! 

If you're wanting to preserve them a little longer you could try smashing them with some other wild greens like sorrel in a pestle and mortar with garlic and olive oil to make your own luxury Pesto...

When roasted they have a deeper flavour which can be achieved by shelling and roasting on a foil lined tray in low oven for about an hour, or by tossing briefly in a dry pan, and (with shells intact) in the hot ashes of a camp fire but take care not to burn the kernel inside – what a waste that would be! It's not difficult to imagine our ancient ancestors of Britain gathering and eating them in exactly the same way, and scorched hazelnut shells have been found amongst the evidence of prehistoric settlements.

Personally I like them best just as they are, straight from the tree, unadulterated and no mucking about! ;)


Update: I thought I'd have a go at baking with them and after reading Joanne's recipe for Blondies over at Inspired Taste I figured that Blondies would be a great way to showcase the cobnuts and let their flavour shine. I followed the recipe exactly (rare for me I know!) and added the chopped cobnuts as a topping, pushing them into the surface so they wouldn't scorch in the oven. They came out great and extremely nutty!

Cobnut BlondiesCobnut Blondies


Have you tried Cobnuts before? Let us know what you think in the comments below!


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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