A hazelnut in every bite

A hazelnut in every bite

This is perhaps the best time of the year as now all the labour expended starts to show dividends as we can start to harvest what we have grown. Even better, it is the time of year when the hedgerows are full of free produce. Going on a walk at this time of year can be made much more rewarding by the simple act of carrying a bag with you. Mushrooms, blackberries, and windfall apples can make a walk  very interesting and add greatly to the pantry on returning home. I am aware my neighbours are collecting likewise and sometimes you can tell you have been dilatory in going for a walk as many of the ‘goodies’ have been taken. However, I have been very aware that many people miss one of the best items to forage; nuts, especially the hazel nut.

The hazel tree is prolific producer of nuts and for the past month it has been dropping its bounty on the paths and roads in heavy crops. The squirrels are aware of this and will manage to collect copious quantities. Indeed, as they work round the clock, they will manage to collect many more than you unless you are very diligent. One way to circumvent this problem is to collect some nuts even though they are green. You can empty your bag when you get home into a dark dry area, and they will ripen over then next few days.

Now it quite possible to eat hazel nuts raw and the only preparation you need for this is a nutcracker and a bowl for the shells. This can be an excellent accompaniment to a TV drama on dark evening. However, a better strategy, in my opinion, is to roast the nuts. This is simply done and adds to the versatility of your haul.

Simply warm an oven to 140 degrees. While it is getting ready sit and listen to the radio while you crack the nuts and lay them on a baking tray. Once the tray is covered put them in the oven and leave them for 20 minutes.  When they come out wrap them in a damp dishcloth. This will steam the nuts and then, when you rub the nuts inside the cloth, help remove the slightly bitter skin that coats the nut. Put the nuts in an airtight jar and use as you wish – snacking, crushing and adding to muesli or yoghurt for breakfast, as a base for a variant of Nutella, or as a component of biscuits or flapjacks.

This is really simple foraging and something that is very rewarding. Indeed, as I think about it, you don’t even need a bag as it is likely that you will have pockets while out walking which will do just as well. And, if you are not wearing trousers on your perambulations through the lanes then collecting hazelnuts is not likely to be high on your priorities)

Sudd Drain Duon / Sloe Kir

Sudd Drain Duon / Sloe Kir

I don’t get on with Blackthorn, I never really have. There is a short spell in May when its white flowers, along with those of the Hawthorn, brighten up the hedgerows. But this is a very temporary pleasure and the plant quickly returns to its true nature as a dense, spiky and dangerous bush. It is no surprise to me that this is the wood witches prefer to make their staffs and wands. It really can be an evil wood, anyone who has had to try to work with Blackthorn will know that it is one of the few woods that actually fights back. After trying to clear a patch of this bush from our sheep field I looked as if I had spent the afternoon trying to pack angry cats into a duffle bag, my arms were so scratched, ragged and torn. So I don’t like Blackthron but I do respect it.

Usually this time of the year the Blackthorn manages to annoy me again. In our patch of land, due to the elevation and climate, most soft fruits do badly. We get small crops of apples, plums or damsons. However, the Blackthorn teases us with its heavy crops of sloes. Every year they seem better, the bushes are laden with plump, juicy blue berries which grow without an ounce of help from us. There is an obvious warning here. The reason the bushes are so heavy with fruit is partially because no-one likes it. When the cherries, apples or plums appear the birds and wasps closely follow, but sloes are so disgustingly tart that everyone leaves them alone, leaving them on the boughs to taunt me.

There is a tradition of making sloe gin and although we have done this it is always a bit unsatisfactory. There is little cost saving, or increased independence, in a recipe that requires you to first purchase gin. Further, although you end up with a flavoured gin which might be better than drinking neat gin (which is very much like drinking perfume) it is still not truly a great drink. Sloe gin is the last drink to be drunk at the party when all the good popular drinks have been finished. Sloe gin, like Ouzo, Palinka or Unicom, is drunk when other drink has been taken in sufficient quantity to impair your judgement, encourage you to make rash decisions and has dulled your palate to a significant degree.

I was therefore delighted to find a recipe that might make sloes useful. Rather than making sloe gin or jelly I decided to make sloe kir. This is a sweet cordial that is incredibly quick and easy to prepare, the recipe is below. This is a sweet drink with a clear sharp kick to it. It tastes of plums and cherries and evokes the taste and smell of fresh ripe damsons rather than reveal is hideous true nature. Using it like kir in fizzy wine or water is very pleasant on a hot afternoon and it can also be drizzled over ice cream.

I can now look at blackthorn bushes benignly and hope they give a bumper crop of sloes. The tide in the battle has changed and for once we are on the winning side.


To make this juice add 1 litre or sloes and one litre of water to a pan. Add 450g of sugar and bring to the boil. Keep this simmering for three quarters of an hour then drain it through a sieve. Next pour it through a muslin to leave you with a dark red liquor. This can be kept in the fridge for a week or frozen for use later on.

Sloe Kir