Oregon’s #1 nut: Hazelnut favorites earn national attention

November, 2010 Posted in Food And Drink

By Kathy Cook Hunter

Even Martha likes them, our wonderful Oregon-grown hazelnuts. “Martha” as in Martha Stewart.

A recent issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine featured recipes with hazelnuts – also known as filberts – reminding cooks and bakers pondering their list of Christmas holiday gift possibilities to include some with hazelnuts.

Ruth Kaser’s husband, Fred, grows about100 acres of Oregon’s most famous nut near Marquam.

“The hazelnut is the ‘in’ nut right now, and the market to China is very good,” she said.

The Willamette Valley grows 90 percent of U.S. hazelnut production, she said, but other countries, including Turkey, France, Italy and the Caucasus Mountains between Europe and Asia also produce large crops.

Driving the country roads near Silverton and Mount Angel, one can’t help but notice row-after-row of short, full hazelnut trees bearing shaggy-looking pale-green husks. After the crop is harvested using machines, the husks are removed and the small brown nuts are dried.

Only then do you want to remove what’s inside, the “kernel,” with your nutcracker.

In her cookbook, Hazelnuts and More, Oregon author Lucy Gerspacher says hazelnuts “really shine when they are toasted. The flavor turns smoky and robust, and the texture is crisp and crunchy.” She advises a slow roast in an oven at 275 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until the skins crack and the meat is golden brown. At 350 degrees it’s a faster process but riskier because the kernels can scorch.

Gerspacher presents a variety of hazelnut-added recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts in her cookbook. Many of the desserts are suitable for gift giving, and two from the cookbook are included here.

And Martha’s recipes? One can find 14 pages of them, of which I especially liked Hazelnut Blondies, by going online to marthastewart.com/recipe-finder.

Hazelnut Brittle

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons water
2 cups whole roasted hazelnuts
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
Generously butter a large baking sheet.

In a 3-quart kettle, combine sugars, syrup and 1 cup water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Hook a candy thermometer on the edge of the pan and cook the syrup over medium-high heat until temperature reaches 280 degrees, about 10 minutes.

Add hazelnuts and continue cooking until the mixture turns light brown and reaches 300 degrees, about 5 minutes.

While the syrup is cooking, heat peanut butter in the top of a double boiler or in a microwave.

Dissolve soda in the 2 teaspoons water. When syrup reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat and quickly stir in peanut butter, then the soda mixture.

Immediately pour out onto the buttered surface, pouring as thin a layer as possible. (Tip the sheet or slab so the candy will flow, but do not spread it with a knife or it will lose its light, airy texture.) Let cool. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container for as long as several weeks.

Recipes adapted from “Hazelnuts and More” by Lucy Gerspacher (1995) for the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board, Aurora.

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