Hazelnuts, also known as Filberts, are a wonderful perennial food. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the nation’s largest producer of hazelnuts, providing the US with 99% of its hazelnuts and making up 3% of world market. Turkey is the world’s biggest producer.
Hazelnut production is beginning in Minnesota too. Thought the European varieties aren’t hardy there, the native shrubs, Corylus americana and Corylus cornuta produce good quality nuts. Lois Braun is doing postgraduate work at the University of Minnesota on hazelnuts. I’ve seen her ride her bike with about a half dozen potted little hazel trees in baskets on the back. Also at the U of M, Paula Westmoreland is researching multi-function plant communities involving hazels, including possible cut flower under-story cash crops such as daffodils.
Today I drove an hour southwest on the Pacific highway to McMinnville, (to un-decorate a hotel). Along the way there were fields and fields of hazelnuts, their catkins softly pink in the grey day. I was surprised that they were much more of a tree than a bush like the English ones I’ve seen and native ones in the Midwest. Apparently in the Pacific Northwest the trees are pruned that way so the nuts can be harvested by machine when they fall to the ground. A tree can produce nuts for 40 to 50 years.
In England there are landscapes that have been altered by humans for so long that a whole new ecosystem has evolved. One of these is the hedgerow, another is the coppiced woods which are often comprised of hazel. A singular animal lives there: It hops from branch to low branch, feasts on nuts, seeds and bramble berries on the sun-dappled forest floor and often falls soundly asleep. It is the dormouse.
Hazelnuts can be used in either sweet or savory dishes. They taste good with chocolate, goat cheese, in salads and pastries. While they are more commonly eaten in Europe, they are gaining popularity in the US as a flavor for ice cream, coffee and biscotti. The European favorite Nutella can be found here too, it combines chocolates and hazelnuts to make a spread that some consume in large quantities, smearing it on crepes, bread, cookies, crackers and fruit.