This week’s How To may be a little out of date for some areas, but there are still hazelnuts around a bit further South, so make use of them whilst they last!
1: The first step in foraging is to know what you’re looking for. Hazelnuts are especially hard to spot, as their leaves resemble many others and their nuts are covered by a light green cover that is easily confused for the leaves themselves. So first of all let’s find what the trees look like.
Hazel trees can be short or very tall and still bear fruit. The young ones look like bushes with no apparent main trunk, whereas the older ones have a slim trunk, many almost horizontal lower branches and upwards pointing middle and upper branches. This results in many branches very close to the ground. The bark is thin, smooth and silvery brown.
2: Once you have found a hazel tree, it’s time to check whether the nuts are ripe. An unripe hazelnut has no kernel, so there is no point picking them yet.
The hazelnuts themselves are fairly hard to spot, so to identify a hazel with ripe nuts it’s best to look at the ground. Underneath the tree you should see a number of hazelnuts on the floor.
The casings you see will tell you what to look for in the branches. There are generally two types of casing even though there are many types of hazelnut. One type covers the entire hazelnut in a long green sleeve. The other exposes some of the nut. With the first it can be hard to tell which fruits are ripe, but with the latter it’s fairly easy to spot.
White hazelnuts are often unripe, but if they have a white top and brown beneath the sleeve they should be ripe. Ripe hazelnuts also usually fall out of the sleeve when pressure is put on them, whereas most unripe ones stay where they are.
3: Once you have found a hazel tree with ripe hazelnuts, it’s time to gather them.
The ones off the ground are often good, but some have already rotted or been eaten. Look for cracks and holes in the nut. If it has none, compare it to a nut right from the tree. Often, hollow and rotten ones will have lost some of their shine and gone a bit grey, so they look dusty even when they aren’t.
The ones on the trees that are brown through or white with a brown base are also ready for picking. Look out for unusually small ones, wholly white ones or ones with a little green on them.
Be careful when pushing them out of the sleeve: sometimes they fall and can be hard to spot among fallen leaves and other debris.
4: Once you’ve taken them home, it’s time to shell them. Get a nutcracker. A pair of pliers can work too, but may damage the hazelnut.
Sometimes cracking them from two angles is required to get the nut out. Once they’re shelled, remove the brown skin. You can already eat them as they are or use them to make hazelnut milk or baked goods.
5: But we’re roasting them today. Pre-heat the oven to 140C.
Place your shelled nuts on a tray where they have space to roll around. Use more than one tray if they are cramped. Also, try and sort them by size if it varies wildly, as small ones will burn long before large ones are solid.
Roast until brown. Turn the heat down to 100C and cover them in foil.
Once dry, remove from the oven and cool.
6: Even though they’re roasted, I’d suggest leaving them to cool in the open and then putting them in a coffee jar with a moisture-absorbing lid or freezing them, as preservation is not guaranteed.