Hazelnuts are some of the best nuts to crack, and here’s many reasons why!
I always loved the cute "noisettes" (French for hazelnuts), especially with chocolate! But it's only since living in a region where they're cultivated that I really discovered the little round nuts in their complete splendour, and also how versatile they are. Not only great in desserts, you can add them to many kinds of savoury dishes. They are harvested in autumn, making them just perfect for menus in the cooler seasons. Some nuts are botanically classified as a single seed of fruit with a hard shell. However, the hazelnut is a true nut, like chestnuts (which are also grown locally, lucky us!). Raw hazelnuts are absolutely healthy and nutritious. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, they are also a great source of fibre, calcium and protein. Due to this high protein content, most nuts' nutrient composition resemble legumes, which is essential for a vegetarian diet. Hazelnut meal is a gluten-free alternative to flour as well.
Hazelnut season • Photo © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-21
A few blocks from us, in Tumbarumba, there is a local café called Nest that features the best local produce to discover in-season: on their menus, at special events and also at various markets. This is where I met Craig Anderson and Bindi Vanzella, the owners and growers of Happy Wombat Hazelnuts who supply their produce to the café. Located near us, on the way to Batlow, the farm is more than a hazelnut orchard, it's a sustainable horticultural farm that works with the land. They produce hazelnuts, figs, berries and grow other cool climate fruit varieties like medlars, feijoas, persimmons, quinces, pomegranates, etc. We visited them a few times and had the chance to see and photograph the farm, the land...and the nuts! Bindi was very generous of her time during harvesting to introduce us to the place, share their story, the surrounding native forest and of course the method of processing the hazelnuts. They cultivate a few varieties but their best performer is Ennis, which are the ones packed and available locally, raw or roasted. Wombats are not only the happy residents at the farm: their two dogs including a very smily instagram-star called Bess, wild bird species and little critters like sugar glitters, possums, reptiles and insects are all part of a very healthy habitat!
Locally and happily grown hazelnuts • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-21
About two months before our first visit at Happy Wombat Hazelnuts farm, things were not so happy... The Dunn's Road bushfire (that devastated our region on 2020's New Year's eve) had passed through their land and 50% of the farm burned to some degree... Their story of the disaster and rebuild is impressive. At this time, the eucalyptus of their revegetated gully were already shooting new growth. It was quite fascinating to see such beautiful colours of new gum leaves growing back to life in such a charcoal burnt woodland. Horticulture is Bindi's work and passion and she shared her knowledge, observations and progress with us. Most hazelnut trees survived and the harvest was still on that year, even if it was not as prolific as it normally is. Things have been much better since and of course the hazelnuts have been rolling again. To know more about their story, the produce and the farm, I recommend you check their website and to follow their social media pages. Their posts about the nature and life at the farm are always super interesting to read. They are not open to the public, but they welcome enquiries.
Beyond the hazelnuts • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
Many recipes that contain hazelnuts are in development in my little home kitchen. Some of my best "creations" so far are with homemade cretons spread (replacing bread crumbs as a gluten free version), silverbeet pesto, granola cereals, maple leaf biscuits, chocolate chip cookies and dessert fondue. I love them roasted for topping on pastas, vegetables, salads, pizzas, soups, yogurt and grilled cheese sandwiches. Not only are they a perfect match with the cocoa flavour, they also pair perfectly with maple syrup and honey. Their pleasant crunchy texture and unique taste can enhance the flavour and nutrition of any dish. You can also simply crack and eat them fresh and raw with a crispy apple cider, with a good cheese, fruits and wine, there is no limit really (except, of course, to those allergic to nuts). More tips about hazelnut healthy eating here.
Going completely nuts with hazelnuts • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2020-21
On another visit, I asked Bindi for some shelled hazelnuts to use in my food photography projects and she gave me a little bag of each variety. I went a bit "nuts" with them and mixed them all up after a few shoots ... so I cannot tell which are which anymore. I call them my little still life photography "beads" and they certainly have been used well (and still now)! I don't grow hazelnut trees but I might soon... In some of the shelled nuts that ended up in my compost, one gave me a little surprise last spring and shooted in my backyard veggie patch. I transplanted the seedling in a pot and it has grown very well, and fast. However, I will need another tree for cross pollination. I guess this is to be continued, meanwhile, I can simply walk to Nest to buy my packs of Happy Wombat Hazelnuts for cooking!
Still life "beads" • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2021-22
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