Homegrown: Spotlight on Local Food a column from North Coast Voice November 2022
By T Gallo
When was the last time you thought about a hazelnut? When you think of hazelnuts what comes to mind? Crunchy, buttery, slightly sweet, Nutella, hazelnut cream, heart health, Middlefield? The latter is where this local food story begins! For some, it all begins and ends with hazelnuts…for others, it is a seasonal delicacy. Thank goodness we are currently in the heart of the season so we are able to appreciate both. Additionally, there are enough health, ecological and epicurean benefits to make the hazelnut a staple in the Northeast Ohio local food movement.
Size and flavor: To examine a hazelnut one can appreciate the smooth texture of the oval/cylinder-shaped cob, the slight straiation of color and the point at the end. The cob is covered by the husk which will need to be manually removed during processing, or, if left to dry, will open and expose the nut. The flavor of the hazelnut keeps us coming back for more. Slightly sweet and buttery, hazelnuts are delicious raw and even tastier toasted. Great in everything from sweet to savory and a soon-to-be-a local favorite as we will introduce a new nut farm and ideal growing conditions.
Crop value: Hazelnuts are the fifth largest nut crop world-wide, with the USA as third largest producer and Ohio is the fourth largest producer of hazelnuts in the US. While a blight made growing hazelnuts bleak several decades ago, according to Arbor Day Foundation, there are several strong varieties that are viable for growth in zones 4 through 8. Growing hazelnuts, as many are able to be grown as bushes, is also beneficial for the soil as they improve carbon sequestration, have a longer period of photosynthetic activity, reduce and prevent soil erosion, require no tillage, decrease nitrogen leaching and are classified as a riparian buffer zone species. This makes them an ideal crop for Ohio both economically, for building food security and for promoting regenerative soil practices.
Tasty and nutritious. Made into a nut butter, an oil, a flour the value-added products of hazelnuts can fill a whole pantry. They are easily stored for long periods and have a nutritional profile of high value. Many experts rate the hazelnut as the most nutritious and heart-healthy of the nut family. They are high in many of the B Vitamins, have significant amounts of Vitamin E, they have a similar content of Omega 9 and 6 as virgin olive oil and lower in saturated fats than olive oil or butter. They are number one in folate and have significant amounts of manganese and pack a whopping 11% of dietary fiber in one serving. Additionally, they are ripe with protein. Hazelnuts are quite versatile, delicious and nutritious making them a great addition to any plate or farm.
Buying local: In a recent interview, Kareen Caputo of Newcomb Nut Farm in Middlefield, states that after about five years, they are currently growing about 400 pounds a year with the capacity to produce about 20,000 pounds of hazelnuts a year. The process of harvesting hazelnuts is indeed worthy of note. Kareen describes the mid-September work of picking the nuts by hand when they are more easily removed of their husks, the nuts then sit for several days for drying, the husks are completely removed by hand (and these are composted back into the soil), and then they are cleaned with a solution and placed on screens to dry. She and her husband Michael are also working on designing a new hazelnut nut cracker. Kareen will be performing a demonstration of uses of hazelnuts at Harbor Gardens in the historic Ashtabula Harbor on December 11th at 5pm. Kareen will introduce recipes that tantalize, discuss some of the health benefits, describe the oil making process and give some samples of delicious hazelnut goodness. If you are interested in this class please visit the Harbor Gardens website or fb page (harborgardens.org). Hazelnuts just may be the next big thing.
This month’s recipes: includes novice insights and a challenge for the more advanced cook.
- Roasted hazelnuts (beginner)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees
- Place the shelled hazelnuts on a cookie sheet or cast iron baking pan
- Roast for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden
- Remove from oven and cover with a dish towel for 3 minutes and then rub vigorously to remove skins
- Hazelnut no-bake cheesecake (for the adventurous) modified from this recipe found on youtube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB7WugX0iQo)
- For the wet ingredient in filling: make a hazelnut cream by soaking the roasted hazelnuts (one cup hazelnuts and one cup water) in a blender for at least one hour. Blend until creamy – may add drops of water to reach desired consistency.
- Use toasted hazelnuts in the cream filling, in the graham cracker crust and as a topping for the ganache
Hazelnut research and development – https://www.arborday.org/
- Fresh hazelnuts in husk – from Newcomb Nut Farm Trees (photo by Gallo) 2. Basket of Hazelnuts at Harbor Gardens (photo by Gallo) 3. Hazelnut Cheesecake with Roasted Hazelnut Ganache. Photo by T Gallo
Kareen of Newcomb Nut Farm (NNF) in Middlefield, OH (photo submitted by NNF)