One thing I’m really going to miss about my old house when it finally sells is the hazelnut bushes. There are four of them, planted by the previous owner. I’ve been getting some pretty good harvests from them in the past few years.
It’s a labor-intensive harvest. First you have to pick the pods from the bushes. They grow singly or in clusters of two to four pods, sometimes more. You can wait until the pods have turned completely brown and started to dry and open up. If you do that, however, chances are the local critters will beat you to it and you’ll lose a good portion of your crop. So it’s better to pick a little earlier and let the nuts finish ripening in the house.
You can pick them when the pods have started to brown on the outside. If you open one at this stage, you’ll see that the nut inside is brown. If the nut is a creamy color, it’s too early to pick.
Spread the pods on a flat surface (I use one end of the dining room table) to dry. It can take a couple of weeks. If you are impatient, like me, you can open the pods and remove the nuts before they are completely dry. You’ll end up with sticky hands, though, and the nuts are much easier to remove from the dry pods.
Put the nuts in a bowl with a nutcracker for snacking. Watch out if you have mice. I’ve had all the nuts disappear out of a bowl, only to discover them later hidden in dark closet corners and under sofa cushions.
I mostly use the nuts for baking. I shell them and store them in the freezer (to keep them from getting rancid) so I can just pull out what I need when baking time comes. The best method I’ve found so far for shelling the nuts is folding them in a dish towel (to keep the shells from flying all over) and hitting them with a hammer.
This is somewhat tedious, so if anyone can suggest a more expedient method, please let me know.
To bring out their flavor, roast the nuts before adding them to a recipe. Spread them out on a baking sheet and put in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. They’re good in pumpkin bread and in toppings for fruit crisps.