Out There With the Squirrels

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I have been eying up the hazelnut trees in this area and today I headed out to see what I could gather (legally) for free.  There are several public walkways and paths in this neighbourhood and along one of them there happens to be some hazelnut trees. When I moved one of the things I was most concerned about was that I would have to find new areas to gather and forage.  Hazelnuts were near the top of my list.  As it turns out there was no need for concern.

Late in August I was walking on a path that cut along someone’s fence line.  I noticed the hazelnut tree as I ducked to walk underneath it.  Upon inspection I could see that the tree was loaded with green husks holding hazelnuts. I made a mental note to check on the tree and keep a look out for the owner of the property to be out in his yard so I could ask about them.

The next week as I was walking the same path I noticed a man out in the garden so I called “hello” to him over the fence.  He turned out to be a friendly guy and we got chatting about the goings on in the neighbourhood and what not. I l mentioned that I noticed this large hazelnut tree which seemed to be on the inside of his fence line and before I could ask he offered the nuts to me.  I asked him if he was sure he didn’t mind me harvesting some when they were ready.  He insisted that I take all I wanted and he showed me where the gate latch was and said to feel free to come in anytime and gather or pick however many I wanted.  So, today that is exactly what I did.

In less than  half an hour I had a grocery bag full of nuts.  I didn’t even need to pick any off the tree as the ground was covered with fallen nuts.  Some of them are still green but will soon ripen and turn brown as I lay them out in my house to dry.

I like to use the hazelnuts as decorative fall props on tables and in containers as they dry and ripen.  As the season progresses I begin cracking the nuts getting them ready to use.  I like to take a container and a nut cracker and sit down to a good movie in the evening and crack until I finish the amount I have set out or until my hand hurts, whichever comes first.  This year I will be able to give some to my Dad to crack for me as well.  He is an expert and I love giving him a large bag full to crack.  He keeps what he can eat and then returns the shelled nuts to me.

Initially, I like to soak the nuts overnight and then put them in the dehydrator to dry out again.  I read somewhere that soaking nuts before consumption changes the enzyme composition somehow and makes them easier for humans to digest.  I can’t be sure on that but I tried it and it actually gave the nuts an nice texture.

Another thing I like to do is take the cracked hazelnuts and put them on a roasting pan and roast in the oven until they are slightly brown or in a hot skillet and do the same.  As you roast hazelnuts the skin will come off and the flavour is really enhanced.  Upon removing them from the oven I immediately dump them onto a fresh tea towel and wrap them up.  When they are cool I rub the cloth around on the nuts and this removes any skin left on them.  I like to do this when I am making hazelnut bark or truffles with the nuts.

Some of you may be wondering what I do with all the hazelnuts I gather.  You are probably thinking, “how many hazelnuts can one person eat?”  Well, when you have them on hand it is amazing how often you can use them.  For example, on a daily basis I toast a few and toss them on top of oatmeal in the morning or on a salad at dinner or lunch. Another thing I love to make with them is Rosemary Carmelized Nut Bars.  These bars are decadent enough to bring to a party or serve to guests but easy enough to make just because they are delicious.

Grinding hazelnuts  very finely will give you the equivalent of almond meal or flour.  Have you ever bought a package of that?  It is about eleven dollars for a small bag.  Guess what?  It is free for me to make it myself.  Ground hazelnuts make a perfect crust for Chocolate Tarte as well as an attractive garnish for Frangelico Truffles.

So, this Fall keep an eye out for hazelnut trees and generous owners who are overwhelmed with more nuts than they know what to do with.

Later on I will be posting recipes mentioned in this post.  Stay tuned. Happy Gathering.

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