No, I have not posted on the wrong blog and this post should not be over at I'm Listening! My SIL's parents, C&R, have a hazelnut tree in their yard, and the bears have been feasting on it regularly, much to the detriment of the poor tree.
I live in bear country, and I love my bears. And because I love bears, I like to do my part to minimize bear attractants, because bear attractants are bad for bears. Yes, bears to get a good feed at a time when they badly need it, but having compost and unattended fruit and nut trees and other stuff like that around only increases the chances of bear-human contact, and that never is good for bears. All it takes is one idiot who doesn't pick his apples or who puts his veggie trimmings into an outdoor, unbearproof composter to call the wildlife officer and that bear will be dead - guaranteed. It happens all the time out here, and it's a damn shame.
So, really, a hazelnut tree positively groaning with ripe hazelnuts sitting there providing bears a midnight snack is actually not a good thing for the bear or the tree. It is, however, a great thing for a baker on a budget, as I am. I offered divest C&R of their hazelnuts and they were totally agreeable. Yesterday, I spent a couple hours on a ladder picking hazelnuts in the autumnal heat.
Hazelnuts grow in clusters of 4 - 6 and are encased in a husk, similar to corn husks. These husks are sticky, I found out quickly, and I hate sticky hands! I also hate ladders. I refused to go higher than the third step, so there were a lot of nuts left on the tree higher up after I'd finished. I also hate insects, and since C&R don't spray the tree at all, there were spiders and ants all over the frakking place. Many of the encased nuts had spiders inside the husks, and I can tell you that I left those nuts for the bears.
I came away with a very generous haul nonetheless. When I got home, I then wondered what I needed to do with the raw, unshelled nuts. Did they require drying or further ripening? I searched on the net and couldn't find any definitive information. After tasting a few nuts, I decided that they were ripe enough, and this evening I spent about three hours cracking nuts. This was after making a special trip downtown to the kitchen store to purchase an expensive nutcracker (nothing comes cheap at this particular store, let me tell you). Three hours, two ruined fingernails and two sore hands later, I might have cracked open half of the nuts. They seemed quite high in oil, yet I didn't want to get into extracting the oil - too much effort for probably not enough gain. Instead, into the oven they went.
At about 300F I roasted the hazelnuts for approximately 20 minutes, moving the nuts around every few minutes so they would toast evenly. As they heated up, the house was filled with a positively heady aroma. I had initially thought I'd keep some of the nuts completely raw, but after toasting them I decided against this because they just smelled so amazing. And they tasted way better; raw, they were waxy and, though slightly sweet, not as intensely flavoured.
So, after all that work, my net quantity of nuts was...wait for it...maybe three cups. And like I said, that was about half of what I picked yesterday, so this is going to be a multi-evening project. But I am one happy baker and cannot wait to start using these in the kitchen!
I also picked around 15lbs of apples from one of C&R's many apple trees yesterday, but that is a post for another time.