Nut trees: are they all they’re cracked up to be?

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Nutty: sweet chestnuts, ready for roasting

Nutty: sweet chestnuts, ready for roasting Photo: Alamy

Nut trees are a productive bunch. Most provide a rich source of protein, fibre
and minerals; some, such as the almond, produce fragrant blossom and
cosmetic oils; others, such as the walnut, give us handsome timber and sweet
and savoury treats; hazel gives us kindling and praline; and the majestic
chestnut, with its cross-hatched bark, produces flour and marrons glacés.
All offer shelter and food to wildlife, look stunning in our parks and
gardens and are ready to harvest now.

My grandmother had a large almond tree by her front door and I vividly
remember the blossom, if not the nuts. Mark Diacono at Otter Farm tells me
the late spring put paid to nuts this year, but with the right variety (he
recommends ‘Robijn’ – a self-fertile peach/almond cross from Holland that
produces fine-flavoured nuts with good resistance to peach leaf curl) and
good spring weather, those with a sheltered spot will get nuts. Encourage
bumblebees into your garden; with their warm, furry coats they’ll forage
early and pollinate the blossom.

Twigs should be saved for kindling, or buy sweet-smelling almond firewood from
druidswood.co.uk. Commercially, almonds are harvested onto tarpaulins spread
on the ground, by banging the boughs with a wooden pole (wearing protective
headgear), once most of the hulls have split. After removing the hulls,
place to dry on a rack in a cool, dry spot.

Walnuts are splendid trees, a focal point in any garden. Harvest walnuts once
the membrane between the two halves has gone brown and the hulls are
loosening.

The Walnut Wizard is a useful push-along contraption that picks up nuts from
the ground (available from Home
and Garden Gifts
). Take off the hulls, wearing gloves, and leave the
nuts to dry. Store in string bags.

Alexander Hunt, who owns the Walnut Tree Company is an expert on nuts, and
gives specialist advice on orchard and forest trees. He supplies and
recommends growing black walnut and ‘Lozeronne’ for their wood, with hybrids
NG23 and MJ209. If you have walnut timber for sale, he suggests contacting
titchmarsh-goodwin.co.uk.

Gather chestnuts daily as they drop, wearing thick leather gloves, and remove
their prickly overcoats. Slit their shells and roast them on a tray in the
oven, or boil in batches, removing two or three at a time with a slotted
spoon, then peel wearing rubber gloves. Freeze to cook with squash, fungi or
the blessed Brussels sprout.

Hazels are the most rewarding of garden nuts. The trees grow quickly enough to
be coppiced every six years in winter for kindling, beanpoles and pea
sticks, and the nuts are delicious, if you can get to them green before the
squirrels and mice do. Once dried and brown they are tasty roasted at
140C/275F for 20 minutes, and mixed with chocolate in a paste for gianduja
spread or to make praline or brittle. Carefully melt 125g caster sugar in a
pan until golden, add 50g toasted nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice, mix,
then spoon onto greaseproof paper to cool. Break into pieces or blitz into a
powder.

My friend Katy Cox from the Mighty Fine Foods company makes cardamom and
vanilla almond brittle and chocolate-coated walnut and chilli brittle, and
one of her biggest sellers is chocolate and hazelnut vodka: combine 250g
hazelnut and chocolate paste or Nutella with 700ml vodka in a litre Kilner
jar, shake regularly and stir occasionally until dissolved. Strain and
bottle. Refrigerate, and drink within a month.

Katy will be selling her goodies at the beginning of December at my
Christmas Pop-up shop
.

WHERE TO GROW NUTS

Almonds (Prunus dulcis) need good, light soil in full sun with a
frost-free position.

Keep away from cross-pollination with peaches or your nuts will be bitter.

Varieties: ‘Robijn’ (Otter
Farm
); ‘Ingrid’ – self-fertile reliable cropper from
keepers-nursery.co.uk; and ‘Princess’ – a patio variety that needs hand
pollination, from Thompson
Morgan
.

Hazel, filberts and cobnuts (Corylus avellana and maxima) are hardy and
grow well in a well-drained loamy soil under the high canopy of other trees,
in groups or copses for pollination. Prune in midwinter.

Varieties: ‘Redzellernut’ – from Reads
Nursery
; ‘Cosford Cob’ and ‘Butler’ from Chris
Bowers

Walnuts (Juglans regia, above, like a warm site in heavy fertile loam.
They resent being moved, so choose a spot with care. Best for lawns, as
decaying leaves prevent other plants growing underneath. Mulch in spring.

Varieties: Juglans ‘Purpurea’, the purple-leafed walnut from Reads.

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) favours a well-drained acid to neutral
soil. A 10-year-old grafted tree will produce 10kg nuts, but will grow to 30
metres with a spread of 15 metres. You’ll need a pollinator.

Varieties: ‘Marigoule’, an early-fruiting variety with good crops of
large, dark-brown marrons at two to four years, self-fertile from Marshalls
Seeds
. ‘Maraval’ and ‘Marron de Lyon’ from Keepers
Nursery.

NUT RECIPES

Pear and cobnut slice

Serves: 12 to 15

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Ingredients

200g plain flour

175g caster sugar

4 medium eggs

50g melted butter

15g baking powder

200ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 large pears

50g chopped, roasted cobnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Place flour, sugar, eggs, melted butter,
baking powder, milk and vanilla into a large bowl and mix well.

Peel and core the pears and cut into small pieces. Add to the cake mix.

Grease and line an oblong tin roughly 23cm x 33cm in size. Pour the cake
mixture into the tin and sprinkle over the cobnuts.

Cook in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes and cut into slices, dust with icing sugar.

Chocolate cobnut and berry slice

Makes: 24 squares

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus overnight chilling

Ingredients

150g milk chocolate

50g dark chocolate

142ml double cream

50g butter

50g roasted cobnuts

75g raisins and dried berries

3 brioche rolls

Put the chocolate, cream and butter into a small pan and heat gently until
melted and well blended.

Roughly chop the cobnuts and place in a bowl with the dried fruit. Whizz the
brioche in a processor to form crumbs and add to the bowl.

Stir in the melted chocolate and mix thoroughly.

Pour into a 2lb non-stick loaf tin (you could line with cling film if your tin
isn’t very non-stick) and leave to cool. Then chill in the fridge overnight.

To serve briefly dip the tin into hot water (not necessary if lined) and tap
the tin sharply to release. Cut into small squares or bars, dust with cocoa
and serve with coffee.

For more recipes visit: Kentish
Cobnuts

For advice on orchard and forest trees, Alexander Hunt (Kentish
Cobnuts
; 01732 882734 or Walnut
Trees
).

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