What a load of cobnuts: There's been a bumper crop of the Kentish seasonal delicacy this year

It's not only top chefs who will enjoy them this year, finds David Gerrie

Year after year, after I had ­relocated to the Kentish border following a lengthy sojourn in California, I could not understand the strange clusters of frilly fruit which seemed to start bursting out of every local greengrocer’s each early autumn.

Every season I asked about them and each time was told, simply, they were Kentish cobnuts. Now, I know my nuts. They come in hard shells that can wreak havoc on an otherwise ­uneventful Christmas lunch – not surrounded by rugged green leaves, which can be peeled back to reveal the most unctuous, sweet, almost milky nugget nestling within.

Thoughts that they were only a local delicacy, unknown outside the M25, were dispelled by further research that revealed this modest but delicious nut, a member of the hazelnut family, is popular throughout the land and revered by top chefs, finding its way into Michelin-starred establishments such as L’Enclume, The Ritz, The Ivy, Le Caprice, The Goring Hotel, Launceston Place, Midsummer House, The Greenhouse, The Jugged Hare and Le Champignon Sauvage.

The Kentish cobnut, a type of cultivated hazelnut, was first bred in 1830 by a Mr Lambert of Goudhurst, with Victorians considering them a ­delicacy, eating them as an accompaniment to after-dinner port. Unlike most other nuts, cobnuts are sold fresh, not partially dried. They are usually in ­season from the end of August through to October, but stored nuts may be ­available until Christmas.

Regrettably, the Kentish cobnut had been in decline for some decades and only about 250 acres are still grown today, but this year’s crop is terrific news for chefs and diners alike.

“Thanks to the wonderful sunshine, this crop is the best we’ve seen in 10 years,” says Alexander W J Hunt, chairman of the Kentish Cobnut Association, who harvests some 27 tons annually from his Potash Farm estate near Sevenoaks. “We’ll be receiving orders on the hour from now right until Christmas Eve. They’re really crunchy, milky and succulent this year – wonderful with a G&T or a glass of Sancerre. And they’re loaded with vitamins E and B. All you need is a decent nutcracker, but when they’re fresh, you can just peel the outer skin back with your fingers.”

In an average year, the UK’s cobnut plantations will produce 75,000 tons of nuts, but this year the figure is ­expected to be more than 200,000, sending “nutters”, the official name for cobnut pickers, into overdrive.

At the beginning of the season, the husks are green and the kernels particularly juicy. Nuts harvested later on are ripe, have brown shells and husks, and the full flavour has developed. Cobnuts are sold fresh and keep well in the fridge salad drawer.

They should not be allowed to sweat. Husks should be removed if loose but it is not necessary to take off every one. The addition of a little salt helps preserve the nuts. Stored correctly, ripe nuts will keep until Christmas and ­beyond. Unshelled cobnuts may also be frozen, although they may lose their crispness.

Bruno Loubet, chef/owner of Bistro Bruno Loubet, in Clerkenwell’s Zetter Hotel, and Grain Store, in King’s Cross, doesn’t just like the fresh nut. “Kentish cobnut oil has a wonderfully delicate flavour,” he says. “As a Frenchman, I would usually use walnut oil, but sometimes that flavour is too strong and cobnut oil is much more delicate. I would never use it in cooking, but it’s a great addition to dressings. Mind you, it’s about £16 for 250ml, which could get you quite a decent bottle of wine. I like to mix it with vinegar, fresh minced cobnuts and chervil to mix with still-warm new potatoes.”

Daniel Clifford, of Cambridge’s two-Michelin-starred Midsummer House, says: “I am lucky to live in an area where cobnuts grow where I walk the dogs. We use them for cauliflower and cobnut purée, which is served with crayfish, with fresh cobnuts grated on the top.”

In Devon, Michael Caines, executive chef at Gidleigh Park Hotel, is another fan. “I use them like hazelnuts,” he says. “Roasted and chopped they’re a terrific addition to a beurre blanc sauce to accompany fish dishes. I pan fry John Dory and make a kind of pesto by toasting the nuts with rosemary, lemon and parsley in the same pan the fish has come out of. I also them use in pralines and in a cobnut ice cream with Frangelica. They’re great chopped and put through cabbage or scattered on a pasta dish for added texture.”

Fernando Stovell, co-owner of Stovell’s, in Chobham, Surrey, says: “I started experimenting with cobnuts by simply pairing them with slices of Pata Negra ham. Now I love to cook a whole lobe of foie gras sous vide with milk and pink salt for three to four hours at 34C degrees, before chilling it, then smoking it over cherry wood and serving it with pickled silver-skin onions, toasted cobnuts and a hay dressing. I also halve the nuts to serve with pan-fried halibut with watercress purée and make a stem-ginger cheesecake with cobnut cream, pineapple sorbet and wild sorrel.”

Mark Sergeant, chef/director at Plum + Spilt Milk, in the Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross, who will be serving pumpkin soup with Kentish cobnut pesto , says: “Being from Kent, I love cobnuts and have grown up with them. As with everything so seasonal, it’s a time to look forward to, like asparagus ­season. They are pretty much like ­hazelnuts so can be used in most ­recipes containing them, but my

favourite is to make a Kentish apple crumble and put lots of roasted cobnuts in the crumble for a real local, seasonal treat. They’re also great made into a pesto and mixed with mussels.”

Tim Allen, of London’s Michelin-starred Launceston Place, favours hot smoked grouse salad, cobnut purée, white peaches, lardo di collanata and crumbled frozen foie gras. “I like the light, nutty flavour and creamy texture which goes really well with young grouse,” he says.

Mark Pointon, chef/patron of Cambridge’s one-starred Alimentum, says: “I like them because in my village they’re free to pick! I love shaving them raw over roast grouse with elderberries, which come in at the same time of year. As a dessert, we serve blackberry and apple with cobnut granola. We roast the nuts and mix them with freeze-dried apple, apple caramel made from reduced apple juice and cinnamon.”

“As soon as cobnuts come in, they take over from hazelnuts in my kitchen,” says Alyn Williams, chef/patron of Mayfair’s Alyn Williams at the Westbury. “It’s a time of year I really look forward to, like the arrival of peas and asparagus. I pair shaved cobnuts with grouse and a rowanberry curd, with the creamy nut providing a perfect foil for the rich bird. As cobnuts start to disappear, persimmons arrive, so I make a biscuit-less cheesecake with sweet, unpasteurised cow’s curd, raw persimmon which has almost ­jellified and chopped cobnuts.”

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference