April 14, 2012
As the walnuts and chestnuts begin to fall, I look back on the hazelnut harvest with wonder. The wonder is mainly because I have made an effort this year to gather them up, but they have been prolific, beginning to fall in late January and continuing until the end of March.
They are the fruit of four trees. When I left my job as a gardener with the Rangiora Borough Council, I was able to choose a few plants to take with me from the nursery, and I remember choosing some oaks and six unlabelled hazelnut bushes. My father helped me plant them on a rise above the stream on the edge of his vegetable garden. Neither of us could have imagined that one day this hazel grove would complement a house planted on his garden.
Four plants have survived the years and each one produces a distinctively different nut.
The largest, which is probably the same as a Kentish cobnut has a high percentage of empty shells this year (time to dose it with molybdenum). I'm not partial to the flavour of hazelnuts newly fallen, but these are truly delicious and sampling them, I can understand why the unseasoned ones are such a delicacy in England: they are milky and flavoursome with the texture of coconut. But like so many truly delectable crop plants the quality of flavour is matched with inconveniences of processing: the empty shell ratio and the way the shaggy nut skin adheres to the shell when cracked open would turn commercial New Zealand growers away from them.
By comparison these nuts have poor flavour. If my trees were taken from cuttings as I suspect they were, they will have been selected for different qualities. If it weren't for the disappointing taste these little nuts would be ideal for confectionary, wrapped in chocolate.
The nuts above have a distinctive shape which I describe as heart-shaped. They also have a good flavour.
But these, with their standard shape and clean-skinned kernels, are non-descript in taste.
Still, I'm looking forward to using all of them over the winter, and have fond dreams of making flour-free, hazlenut macaroons and cakes. They'll probably get eaten by hand instead, and given away.
But now, as I remember that Elwin's birthday is the time when the walnuts fall on our tin roof with reports like gunfire, I'll leave you with Kitty's jig.