Growing up in countryside where Hazel was used for hedging and coppiced for hurdle-making etc, one of our favourite activities late in the school holidays was to go nutting. You can always buy the highly nutritious and healthy Hazel Nuts dried, or fresh in the domesticated form of Filberts or Cobnuts, but there is nothing like the fresh, creamy
ones you’ve picked in the wild. A couple of days ago we found some just outside Sheffield that hadn’t been completely stripped by Grey Squirrels, as the city ones tend to be. There are two ways to tell if they are ripe. The quickest is to pick one and bite into it. If it is soft-shelled or full of white pith with just a small kernel of nut forming, they need to be left.
You can also tell by their appearance- the involucres (skirt of green calyx) round their base become drier and browner and the shells themselves become paler with touches of red or brown on them as they ripen and harden. Although as kids we always used to crack them open with our teeth, this is a bit hazardous because when the nuts are really full and ripe the shells become extremely hard- a lot depends on the angle you bite to break them open. I wouldn’t advise it unless you’ve had years of practice! Just take them home and get the nut-crackers out. You can keep them in a dry jar but they taste so good when fresh, they never last that long for me. And if you ever go to the beautiful Isle of Mull in late summer you must take nut-crackers with you in readiness. There are no grey squirrels and Mull has the densest concentration of hazel nut trees anywhere in the UK. Conditions: A bright, still, cool morning becoming cloudy with some showers by late afternoon. Temperature: Max 15- Min 10 C