Monday, September 10, 2007

We'll Go Gathering Nuts In May

Well September actually. Last Monday I decided to take a walk with the boys, down the hill to meet Daddy at bus stop on his way home from work. It isn't a rural walk - 'down the hill' means walking down the side of a major road - but there is always something to see or find (you know the kind of things boys like to pick up: feathers, stones, sticks, unmentionable things). It is quite a little nature corridor, for all the cars screaming past. The road was dug out of some fairly old woodland and the last vestiges of it overhang the side on which we normally walk (our allotments are behind houses on the other side).

As we ambled along, I stopped to pick up the feather that had dropped from Elisha's hat and spied treasure on the grass. Small, very green but unmistakably ... a cobnut. We continued on our way to meet Rob and on the way back made a comprehensive search of the grass verge. The squirrels had gotten there before us and of the 20 or so we collected only 6 or 7 actually had nuts inside them, but I was thrilled. Cobnuts are a variety of hazelnut that grows particularly well in the UK, traditionally in the county of Kent (where we happen to live). I had never seen them growing wild before. We'll mark the spot and remember to come back before the squirrels next year, we told ourselves.

'I have a surprise for you!' Rob told me, a couple of days later on his return from the allotment. He had discovered a cobnut tree growing not far from our plot, in part of the 'common' hedgerow. He only noticed it because he had dropped something and saw the nuts on the grass. Their husks are green so they are hard to spot unless you are up close. He went out the next night with a bucket! We stripped them, but left them in their shells and the tally so far is 6 pounds in weight. Treasure indeed. Nuts are not cheap to buy and properly stored these should last until Christmas - if they get the chance! I haven't found an empty one yet either. Their taste is like a hazel nut but fresh and 'green' if you know what I mean. They will dry out and get more 'nutty' and you can also roast them.

I wish my Mum was here to see them. I remember her telling me many stories about growing up in the East End of London in the 1920's and 30's. She often mentioned that in the summer large numbers of men and women (either unemployed or on the annual factory shutdown) would travel down to the market gardens and farms of Kent to go 'hopping': picking the hops needed for the breweries. She never went herself. Her father considered the work too hard for a young girl and the moral climate in the tent communities that sprung up to house the workers far too lax. Her older brothers went though and brought back souvenirs - enormous 'hopping apples' and cobnuts, both of which were a great treat and never forgotten. At one time Kent 'The Garden Of England', was full of, amongst other things, cobnut orchards or 'plats'. As I've said, the cobnut grows well here and is naturally hardy and pest resistant. You would think there would be a market for them, wouldn't you, but most of our hazelnuts in the shops come from Turkey or even China. It can't be right. 'Our' cobnut tree seems to have been overlooked by other allotment holders and squirrels alike and I wonder how many others are in this area unidentified. Our eyes are peeled.

1 comment:

Laura said...

What exciting treasure! We're thinking we'll have few (if any) pecans or chestnuts because of two years of drought. I've a feeling the squirrels will harvest most of our nuts before they fall to the ground.