Hazelnuts have been harvested for thousands of years and there is evidence of large-scale Mesolithic nut processing, some 9,000 years old, on the island of Colonsay in Scotland. The evidence consists of a large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. Similar sites in Britain are known only at Farnham in Surrey and Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man.
The Celts also believed that the Hazelnut tree was the tree of knowledge and the phrase "in a nutshell" probably derives from this legend because all wisdom is within the nut. Hazel is a favourite wood for magicians staffs, wands, walking sticks, self-defence and shepherds' crooks. It is even said that Moses wielded a hazelnut rod when he smote the rocks to make water come forth.
Hazelnuts are also known as Cob nuts or Filbert nuts, depending on the species of tree and Turkey is the largest producer of Hazelnuts in the world. Cob nuts were introduced to the UK in the 17th century and Kent still grows them. Unlike many other nuts, which are sold dried, Cob nuts are sold fresh. In the past Cob nuts were popular with mariners, as they kept fresh for months, and the Victorians were devoted to them and bred many new kinds. In 1913, plantations extended to over 7,000 acres, most of the orchards or “plats” being in Kent. Stored nuts were available from London wholesalers for most of the year, and fetched high prices. However, today, 200 - 250 acres of old plats survive, but new orchards are once again being planted, of Kentish Cob as well as other hazelnut varieties.
The modern name for Filberts has evolved from European folklore. The original name was connected with Saint Philbert's Day (Saint Filbert), the day that harvesting the nuts began, August 22nd, the day of observing the Saint's day of celebration. The famous Roman historian, Pliny, recorded that ‘hazels' (filberts) were frequently gathered by the Romans as food. Pliny believed that filberts had originated in Damascus, Syria, where they grew naturally in forests; however, archaeological records have shown some fossilized remains of filberts that were 5000 years old in prehistoric excavations from China.
Filberts are alleged to conjure up mystical powers and have been thought since ancient times to be used as ‘divining rods' to locate underground spring heads of water, buried treasure, minerals, ores, and as various remedies for illness and ailments of many kinds.
Hazelnuts are extensively used in confectionery to make praline and also used in combination with chocolate for chocolate truffles and hazelnut paste products (such as Nutella). In Austria and especially in Vienna hazelnut paste is an important ingredient in the world famous tortes (such as Viennese hazelnut torte) which are made there. Hazelnuts are also the main ingredient of the classic Dacquoise and in vodka-based Hazelnut liqueurs, such as Frangelico.
Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
¾ cup icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
4 milk chocolate bars (1.55 ounces each)
6 tbsp butter
¼ cup whipping cream
24 whole hazelnuts
1 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted
In a large bowl, sift together icing sugar and cocoa; set aside. In a saucepan, melt chocolate bars and butter. Add the cream and reserved cocoa mixture. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until mixture is thickened and smooth. Pour into an 8-in. square dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Using a melon baller or spoon, shape the truffles into 1-in. balls; press a hazelnut into each. Reshape balls and roll in ground hazelnuts. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.