I started processing our hazelnuts several days ago, beginning, very appropriately, on what turned out to be Hazelnut Day in the French Republican Calendar (jour de noisette, 22 Fructidor) otherwise known as 7th September.
Hazelnuts, also called cobnuts or filberts, are very healthy being packed with minerals and vitamins. They contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, E and K, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc. Another interesting fact is that Ferrero, makers of Nutella and those little round, foil-wrapped chocolates, uses between a quarter and a third (depending on the source you consult) of the world’s hazelnuts. I haven’t been able to determine how many nuts or what tonnage this is, but it’s a lot. One of their 22 factories alone produces about a million Ferrero Rocher chocolates a day, and each of these requires 4 hazelnuts – one in the middle and three crunched up in the coating.
The first couple of years after we arrived here in 2006 we gathered a lot from the many hazel trees growing around our fields. However, we found that only around 10% were usable. For the other 90%, some sort of insect had beaten us to it and devoured the nut inside. A bit of research revealed this insect to the be nut weevil – curculio nucum. The adults of this species spend a cosy winter underground, then emerge in the spring but don’t cause their mischief until summer, when each female deposits one egg in up to 30 hazelnuts. The larvae hatch and eat the nut before emerging by boring a tell-tale hole through the shell. Off they potter to burrow underground and mature until next year, when they’ll take over where their parents left off. The weevil has a two-year life cycle.
There’s a pesticide to deal with these pesky weevils, not that we’ve ever resorted to it, but increasingly other options are being looked at by large-scale producers. The strongest contenders so far are entomopathogenic nematodes which eat the larvae when they’re in the ground (you can buy boxes of 5 million of these for your garden from a company called Biotop), and a fungus that does the same thing. Varieties of hazelnut that have a shell that hardens quickly are more resistant to the egg-laying females.
Back to my hazelnuts. We planted some hazelnut trees, green and purple-leaved ones, along our drive, the first year we were here. These have been producing nuts for a few years now, but I’ve been ignoring them, imagining that they’d be as infested as the wild ones. However, this year I picked some and I’ve had a lovely surprise. The ratio is reversed, with only about 10% having been merrily munched by a baby weevil.
So I’ve now gathered all the nuts I can find and now have a goodly pile of hazelnuts to crack my way through using the four different nutcrackers at my disposal. We’ve built up such an armoury over the years to mainly deal with walnuts, another abundant nut in Creuse. Between them I can deal with even the puniest hazelnut. It’s quite a lot of effort for not very much, since for a nut of around 2g, which seems to be the average size of mine, the shell outweighs the kernel. But they taste delicious, so on balance it’s probably worth it!