Cobnuts reveal traditional Kentish flavours

A Kentish plat, or cobnut orchard
A Kentish plat, or cobnut orchard

With around 75,000 tonnes of cobnuts produced annually in the UK nutters, as the pickers are traditionally known, are being kept busy at this timeof year. Most of the orchards are found in Kent and today cover just 250 acres.

Cobnuts are sold fresh, not dried like its close cousin the hazelnut. You’ll find the nuts in their dainty green-frilled shell in shops from the end of August until November. Buy them for storage to add an earthy taste to your traditional Christmas stuffing and mince pies. A light tap with a small hammer will release the nut, although fresh ones are easily peeled with your fingers.

Cobnuts ripening on the tree
Cobnuts ripening on the tree

Alan Murchison, executive chef of L’Ortolan in Berkshire, uses cobnuts in a gamely wood pigeon dish with bok choi and pureed carrots, while Angela Hartnett makes a delicious cobnut crust for chicken.

Toasting and roasting the cobnuts is a simple way of adding the nutty flavour to your dishes, although the milky tasty of the fresh nuts will be lost.

You could always start your own plat, the Kentish word for a cobnut orchard, and buy a tree or two for your own garden.

Shelled cobnuts awaiting cooking
Shelled cobnuts awaiting cooking

Roasting

Only a few ounces of roasted, coarsely ground cobnuts will liven your dishes with a nutty tang. Can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. Roasted nuts can be eaten on their own, or used whole, chopped or ground to flavour such dishes as pasta, meringues, fruit crumbles, cakes, cake toppings.

About 100g (4 oz) nuts in their shells will produce 40g (1½ oz)

Crack and shell the cobnuts.

Place on tinfoil or baking tray in an oven heated to about 150°C, 300°F, Gas Mark 2, for an hour or so. the cooking time depends on how ripe and how dry they are.

First they become soft, but do not remove them until they have hardened, but have not blackened.

They can also be cooked in a microwave oven; 4 oz of kernels will typically take 6 minutes on a high setting.

 

Buttered

A delicious, simple to make hors d’oeuvre or snack

200g (8 oz) shelled cobnuts
25 – 50g (1 – 2 oz) butter
Salt, pinch

Mix whole nuts and butter with a pinch of salt, into a shallow, uncovered dish. Heat in saucepan for around six minutes, stirring regularly to avoid burning. Cook until nuts are crisp.

 

Watercress & cobnut soup

 Serves 4 – 6

100g (4 oz) cobnuts, chopped finely in a food processor
2 large bundles watercress
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 litre (1½) pints chicken stock
25g (1oz) butter
25g (1 oz) plain flour
100ml single cream
Milk to thin, if required
Rinse watercress and discard stalks.

Combine all the ingredients except butter, flour and a small amount of watercress (for garnish). Cover with cold water and bring to boil, and simmer for around 10 minutes. Liquidise.

Fry the flour in the butter for a few minutes, stirring all the time, then gradually add the liquidized mixture while stirring. Bring to the boil, and thin with milk if required. Garnish with a little chopped watercress and a swirl of cream.

 

Pork casserole

Serves 10

1½ kg (3 lb) stewing pork, cut up
1½onions, chopped
4 large cooking apples peeled and quartered
700g (1½ lb) mushrooms, cut up
100g (4 oz) shelled cobnuts
2 level teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Juice of 1 lemon
2 wineglasses strong cider
2 tablespoons flour

Sauté onions in a little oil.

Add the pork and continue cooking.

Add the flour, gradually mixing in the cider, lemon juice, rosemary and coriander seeds.

Cook slowly for 20 minutes, keeping the casserole simmering, then add the mushrooms and quartered apples and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the pork is tender.

Season.

Add the cobnuts, allowing them to heating through.

 

Marrow stuffed with nuts & plums

Serves 4

1 large marrow
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic (optional)
300 g (12 oz plums) (or a smaller quantity of damsons)
400g (1 lb) cobnuts (weighed in husk)
150g (6 oz) mushrooms, sliced thickly
4 tomatoes, sliced
100g (4 oz) butter
2 heaped teaspoons grated fresh root ginger
1 teaspoon mixed herbs

Wash the marrow, split in half lengthways, and remove the seedy central pith. Place in an oven-proof dish.

Stone and halve the plums, and shell the cobnuts and chop them coarsely.

Fry the onions in half the butter.

Mix all the filling ingredients together and season to taste.

Pack into the marrow and dot with the rest of the butter.

Cover and cook in a moderate oven (170°C, gas mark 3) for 1½ to 2 hours, depending on the size of the marrow.

Recipes & photos from the Kentish Cobnuts Association

 

Bruce McMichael

I am freelance journalist and published author focusing on food and drink; business startups and enterprise; culture and travel. I have also written about the global upstream oil and gas industry, shipping and current affairs. Based in London, I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur.

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