Cobnuts, Filberts and Hazelnuts – what’s the difference? The words are widely interchangeable, with Hazelnuts being the most generic. Cobnuts are hazelnuts that are cultivated for consumption, sold fresh rather than dried; the nuts are usually larger – longer, more ovoid, than wild hazelnuts. Filberts are a subsection of Cobnuts, to be classed as a Filbert the husk must completely enclose the nut. The confusion is not helped by the fact that the most popular variety to be cultivated, Lambert’s Filbert, is commonly known as a Kentish Cobnut.
Hazels are the nut most suited to the British climate as, unlike sweet chestnuts or walnuts, they will set a crop even in the worst summers. The catkins, which appear in spring, are the male flowers and wind is sufficient to pollinate the inconspicuous red female flowers on the same branch. Although the ideal soil for hazels is said to be a deep, damp, limestone, they survive in a wide variety of situations and are present in woodland and hedgerow all of the British Isles, forming multi-stemmed thickets that may be harvested for bean or pea sticks. Left un-pruned the tree would eventually grow to about 20ft, but if you intend to harvest the nuts it is better to keep them at a height of no more than 7ft. At this height they can form an under-storey beneath oaks or beeches.
One of the main reasons that cobnuts became associated so closely with Kent is that they were harvested just before hops, so the same pickers moved from one crop to the other. Also the soil around the Sevenoaks area seems particularly to suit them – not limestone but a free-draining, pH neutral, Ragstone.
If you are hoping to eat the nuts you will have to deal with your main competitor – grey squirrels. They will strip a tree in no time. Eating the squirrels is one option, their flesh is, unsurprisingly given their diet, quite nutty in flavour and so the two flavours combine well on the plate.
Hazelnuts produce delicious oil with which to dress salads. It has been available mail-order from Hurstwood Farm for the last couple of years and this year is joined by a deluxe roasted nut version. When fresh the flesh of cobnuts is crunchy yet slightly milky. Eat them just as they are, with cheese or, if you have plenty, as the star ingredient in a Cobnut tart. Roasting the nuts intensifies the flavour, a point to bear in mind when cooking with them. After roasting grind only what you need for immediate consumption as the nuts will store better whole. For the same reason, when buying any nut oil do check carefully that you are getting the latest vintage as it goes rancid fairly quickly. Keep in a cool place and use ideally within three months but certainly before the start of the next season.
There really is no reason why, as a country, we should not become self-sufficient in hazelnuts. Nuts are extremely good for us, and if we produced more we might be greater users of them. Here are some quick ideas and classic pairing, for more detail see Recipes.
Cobnut classic combinations:
Cheese – serve fresh cobnuts or include them in the accompanying bread
Damsons/Plums – in season at the same time, try a proportion of cobnuts in a crumble topping
Chocolate – the Piedmont region of Italy is famed for its hazelnut chocolate (Gianduia)
Honey – hazelnuts are often preserved in a jar of honey
Raspberries – autumn raspberries with hazelnut meringue