On a June morning, this past summer, I was traveling to a meeting re Food Safety (another role I inhabit). Passing one of our peach orchards, I was transported. Liminal space, the transition of ground to canopy, tree branches stretching over the ground, memories of Oregon roads. The blur of hazelnut trees zipping by. A child’s mind, unfocused, a car window movie of the speeding landscape. I’m mesmerized by the smooth ground and the ethereal "tunnels" between each row of trees. I imagine hobbits and other-worldly creatures dwelling in the cool of the orchard, deep in the protective shadow of the trees.
I’ve mentioned Oregon before. Growing up there has a lot to do with the appeal of working for Kauffman’s. Orchards, farmland, rolling hills, the beauty of fall---OR & PA mirror each other in a lot of ways. I’ve mentioned the fruit orchards of OR, but as you can see Hazelnuts are also a huge part of the agricultural economy of Oregon.
In the fall, while both states are busily harvesting apples, the hazelnuts are also ready for harvest. It depends on the variety, but hazelnuts, which naturally drop when ready, are usually ready by late September or early October. Since they are harvested from the ground, it is imperative that the ground is clear and smooth (as can be noted in the picture above). The machines used to harvest hazelnuts are essentially large commercial sized sweepers and vacuums. The photo above is from an excellent article explaining the whole process and features other pictures that help to understand how the harvest takes place.
According to the Hybrid Hazelnut Consortium (HHC), hazelnuts can be used in at least three different ways: for people food, as animal feed, or as fuel. Sliced, minced, blanched, or roasted, they can be used in ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, fish, meat, salad, and wherever else your imagination allows. Nutritionally, hazelnut oil is much like extra virgin olive oil. It has comparable levels of two important unsaturated fats, Omega 9 and 6. As to its bioenergy potential, initial research is promising. The consortium's website has lots of information, highlighting the many possibilities that growing hazelnuts bring.
Because of a disease known as eastern filbert blight, growing them in the NE has not been a possibility until very recently. Up until the turn of the century or so, Oregon, which grows about 5-7% of the world’s supply, made up 99% of U.S. production. Rutgers University, along with Oregon State University, both of which are part of the HHC, have worked together since 1996 to develop hybrids which are blight resistant. They project that by the end of the decade “there will be small to medium scale orchards of hazelnuts being grown for nut production in New Jersey, the surrounding states, as well as southern Ontario.”
As apples ripen on the tree and make their way into delicious pies or their slices are dipped in warming caramel, hazelnuts are also in demand. In beverages, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics alone, their production is ‘projected to grow [at an average CAGR of 5%] during the period 2018-2026.” (Persistence Market Research) As more people become aware of the many benefits of hazelnuts--the superb nutrition and flavor they add to our diets--and as blight resistant varieties become available, this crop seems to be poised to become much bigger part of U.S. agriculture.
The variety of food we have available to us is truly a blessing. And the role food plays in our lives--our very existence, our health...even our memories of childhood--should not be underestimated. As a tribute to our wonderful food supply, and how apples and hazelnuts add to it, I’ve included this tantalizing dessert recipe…
Apple Hazelnut Blondies (Family Circle)
1 cup hazelnuts
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 chopped, peeled and cored Fuji apples (about 2 cups)
Ingredients for Maple Icing:
1 cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 cup vanilla extract
- 1 of 4: Heat oven to 350 degrees . Coat a 12-cavity brownie pan (such as Wilton Brownie Bar Pan) with nonstick cooking spray.?
- 2 of 4: Place nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool slightly and rub nuts with fingers to remove skin. Chop nuts and reserve.?
- 3 of 4: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine sugars, butter, eggs and vanilla. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; stir into sugar-and-butter mixture until dry ingredients are just moistened. Fold in apples and 3/4 cup of the chopped nuts.?
- 4 of 4: Spoon batter into prepared brownie pan, about 1/3 cup into each cavity. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes; turn out onto rack to cool completely.?
- 1 of 2: In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar; add maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth.?
- 2 of 2: Frost each blondie with a generous 2 tbsp of icing. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts.
If you’re interested in other hazelnut based recipes, here’s three others I found. I can imagine any of these being excellent with a piping, hot cup of tea.