Great British Nuts
This is the time of year when cobnuts quietly make an appearance in the shops. They are a reminder that summer is drawing to a close, but also give promise of tasty autumn produce to come.
Unlike most nuts, cobnuts are sold fresh and 'green' with the soft shaggy calyx still in place, partially enclosing the shell. Inside, the nutmeat is sweet, moist and crisp – quite unlike the chewy drier flesh of nuts sold at Christmas. The season at this 'green' stage is brief so snap them up and eat within a day or two before the calyxes turn brown.
Grown mostly in Kent, cobnuts are a fine example of a great British nut. Cobnut orchards, or plats as they are known, have shrunk since the first world war from 7000 to 250 acres, but a revolution is taking place to save them from extinction. New trees are being planted and the nuts are increasingly available in farm shops and traditional greengrocers.
Cobnuts are delicious eaten raw, preferably cracked by a loved one ready for you to dip in sea salt. It's hard to stop munching them once you get cracking! Once you've eaten your fill, add them to salads, both fruity and leafy, or chop finely and sprinkle over chilled desserts such as a nutmeg-flecked custard tart or a creamy panna cotta. They also enjoy a brief season with damsons – another under-appreciated seasonal gem. If you're making damson jam or chutney, add a few roughly sliced cobnuts and make the most of both.
Especially delicious are roughly chopped cobnuts lightly fried in butter – take care not to burn them. They add irresistible crunch scattered over a thick smooth soup, or crushed roast potatoes or root vegetables, as in my recipe for Pan-Fried Jerusalem Artichokes with Cobnuts.
Late August to early October
Varieties to look for
Kentish Cob, traditional variety with superior flavour.
Choose nuts with a soft green pliable calyx and satiny shells.
Treat as fresh produce and keep in a well-ventilated paper bag in the fridge.
Eat within a day or two of buying, before the husks dry out.
Crack as needed and peel off the soft brown fibre encasing the nut.
© Christine McFadden, September 2013