Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
Where Did It Begin?
I have always associated the hazelnut tree with the Pacific Northwest because the state of Oregon is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the United States. My family and I live a bit to the north; we own two acres in the midst of a hundred-year-old forest in Washington State. Douglas Fir and Redwood Cedar populate our corner of the world, but in the fringes of the forest, where sunshine and shade intermingle, there are hazelnut trees.
How many? I've not counted them, but I know there are more than a dozen. These are not new trees. They are old and majestic; their ancient, weary limbs groan toward the ground. Yet we reap not one hazelnut.
When the nuts are still green on the tree, squirrels and jaybirds battle within the branches for the moist morsels. I've even witnessed jays mimicking the voice of a hawk (a carnivorous threat) to dissuade squirrels from foraging.
Yes, hazelnuts are abundant here, but they did not begin here.
I went out to the hazelwood,
Because a fire was in my head.
— W. B. Yeats
Magic of the Hazel
It is said that 9,000 years ago nomadic peoples gathered the nuts of hazel trees for sustenance, storing them in pouches and pockets. As they traveled, discarded or fallen fruits sprouted and so with the nomads spread the hazel forests. The hazel, along with the apple and hawthorn, is often spoken of in that magical space between the Otherworld and Earth.
Celtic folklore speaks of a Well of Wisdom. The branches of nine magic hazels hung over the pool and dropped their dusk-hued nuts into the water. They were eaten by a salmon, and the salmon, in turn, was caught by Fionn mac Cumhaill. Young Fionn cooked the fish for his druid master but saved a morsel of it for himself. Upon eating the salmon, Fionn gained the power of prophecy. He went on to become one of the most heroic figures in Celtic mythology, leading a band of warriors known as the Fianna. Fionn carried with him a shield made of hazel wood, and he was invincible in battle.
Glaine ár gcroí (Purity of our hearts)
Neart ár ngéag (Strength of our limbs)
Beart de réir ár mbriathar (Action to match our speech)
— Mottoes of the Fianna
The hazel’s ability to impart intelligence extends to other cultures in the ancient world as well. In Norse mythology, the hazel was called the Tree of Wisdom, and the Roman god Mercury feasted on hazelnuts and was considered the personification of wisdom. Hazel shafts have always been the preferred wood for divining rods to locate underground springs of water, buried treasure, ores and minerals.
Hazels are widely distributed throughout much of Europe, from Great Britain and Scandinavia to the Ural Mountains in Russia, as far south as Spain, Italy and Greece and in Iran and the Caucasus region.
And Then a Different Kind of Magic
In a picturesque land framed by the Dolomite mountains, tucked securely in the northwest corner of Italy, beneath the bosom of Switzerland is the Piemonte Region. Medieval towers and cobblestone streets imbue the area with a Disney-esque ambience.
Torino (Turin) is the administrative area of Piemonte, home to some of Italy’s most prestigious universities and an infamous automotive industry; Torino is ranked third in Italy (after Milan and Rome) for economic strength with a GDP of $58 million.
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But 38 miles away, overshadowed by all of this glitz and glamour, is the quaint town of Alba. In autumn her terraced vineyards are a blaze of russet and gold. The landscape boasts an abundance of vegetation—in addition to the wine-making grapes are wheat, rice, olive groves, and countless hazelnut trees.
Alba was the home of a confectioner named Pietro Ferrero. His grandson, Giovanni, shared his story with BBC News:
Pietro was a humble man, living in an enchanted region famed for its abundant hazelnuts. In post World War II Italy times were hard, and chocolate delights were not within reach of the common people. But Pietro had a vision—add sweet (easily accessible) hazelnuts to a small amount of (expensive) cocoa to create a luxurious chocolate confection that would be affordable for everyone.
This hazelnut cocoa concoction would come to be known as Nutella.
My grandfather lived to find this formula. He was completely obsessed by it. He woke up my grandmother at midnight--she was sleeping--and he made her taste it with spoons, asking 'How was it?' and 'What do you think?'
— Giovanni Ferrero
On May 14, 1946, the Ferrero Company was officially founded. Today Nutella is produced in 11 factories worldwide and is the fourth most important international group in the chocolate confectionery market. The company is the number one user of hazelnuts in the world, buying up 25 percent of the entire world production.
- One jar of Nutella is sold every 2.5 seconds throughout the world.
- February 5 is World Nutella Day.
- You could circle the world 1.8 times with the amount of Nutella produced in one year.
- The amount of Nutella® produced in one year weighs the same as the Empire State Building.
- On May 31, 2017, the Ferrero Company opened its first restaurant, the Nutella Cafe! in Chicago.
- On May 14, 2014, Italy issued a 50th anniversary Nutella commemorative postage stamp.
- The actual recipe for Nutella is a closely-guarded secret (like the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices).
- McDonald's in Italy recently unveiled a "Nutella Burger." (There is no information on how well is has sold).
Top Five Producers of Hazelnuts
|Country||Annual Production (metric/tonnes)||% of World Total|
How to Roast and Skin Hazelnuts
Ingredients and Equipment Needed
- 1 pound (about 4 cups shelled) hazelnuts
- Large clean kitchen towel
- Large mixing bowl
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line large mixing bowl with the kitchen towel and set aside.
- Arrange hazelnuts in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
- Roast in oven about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
- They are done when fragrant, and they appear to be a bit shiny, glistening.
- Pour roasted nuts into the center of kitchen towel and allow to cool.
- Bring up all of the edges of the towel so that the nuts are in the bottom, like a hobo pouch (I hope that expression is not deemed as not politically correct).
- Rub the bag of hazelnuts. Give it a good healthy massage so that the roasted nuts are rubbing against one another. This will loosen not all but much of the skins.
- Transfer the hazelnuts with your hands to the fine-mesh sieve. By using your hands rather than just dumping the contents of the towel into the sieve, you will leave much of the skins behind. Shake the sieve to remove more (almost all?) of the remaining skins.
It's Time to Get Started
Now that we have properly roasted and removed the skins from our hazelnuts, and have a large jar of Nutella, let's start cooking and baking.
- Hazelnut-parsnip soup (V)
- Creamy pumpkin soup with hazelnut frico (V)
- Roasted squash over arugula with goat cheese and hazelnut salad (V)
- Creamy chicken-hazelnut salad
- Cranberry-hazelnut turkey wellington
- Stuffed acorn squash with hazelnuts, quinoa, and kale (V)
- Nutella no-bake cookies (V)
- Nutella frosting (V)
- Nutella breakfast rolls (V)
- Nutella tart with hazelnut crust (V)
(V) = vegetarian
Hazelnut Parsnip Soup
As I write this we are sitting in the midst of Winter. The days are short, the wind blows, and I judge the temperature outside by the thickness of the water in the birdbath. It's COLD! This creamy parsnip soup with hazelnuts is warm comfort in a bowl.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup With Hazelnut Frico
Rich, savory-sweet pumpkin soup is topped with a salty-crunchy wafer of Parmesan cheese and toasted hazelnuts.
Roasted Squash Over Arugula With Goat Cheese And Hazelnuts Salad
This is one of my favorite winter-time salads. Oven-roasted squash is creamy soft inside with fantastical carmelized edges. If you don't have arugula (or don't care for it) you can certainly substitute fresh spinach. Nutmeg and sage are the comfort seasonings of winter. Hazelnuts provide a rich, buttery crunch and goat cheese crumbles are the contrasting tangy contrast to the sweetness of the acorn squash.
Creamy Chicken Hazelnut Salad
This creamy chicken hazelnut salad is so very adaptable. I like to add an apple in place of the tomatoes, and celery in place of the crunchy cucumber, but hey, that's just me. Punch it up with crumbled Gorgonzola or creamy Havarti crumbles if you're in the mood. Serve as a simple salad, or buy some good-quality oatmeal or whole-grain bread, spread this on top, and you will have an amazing whole-meal sandwich fancy enough for a luncheon.
Cranberry Hazelnut Turkey Wellington
Imagine all of the wonderful flavors of Thanksgiving in one show-stopping dish. A tender boneless turkey breast is adorned with cranberries and hazelnuts and then enveloped with buttery puff pastry.
Stuffed Acorn Squash with Hazelnuts, Quinoa, and Kale
These stuffed accord squash are a complete meal, vegan and gluten-free. Quinoa provides protein, kale is a rich source of iron and Vitamin A, the creamy soft squash is full of beta-carotene and rich in fiber, and the hazelnuts add a satisfying contrast of crunch.
Nutella No-Bake Cookies
Even my non-baking friends should be able to make these cookies. Bill, I'd like a dozen please when you get around to it. Thank you so much!
It's someone's birthday today. No, I don't know who, but nevertheless, I think that's reason enough to make some cupcakes and top them with this creamy frosting.
Or maybe not. Forget about the cupcakes. I'll just make the frosting.
Nutella Breakfast Rolls
These don't require hours of mixing the dough, proofing, punching down, shaping, rising, and baking. If you have a roll of crescent dough (from the refrigerator case) and a jar of Nutella you have all you need to make these breakfast rolls.
Nutella Tart With Hazelnut Crust
This tart is definitely the grand finale. Yes, it does require some baking, and it takes a while longer than opening a can of crescent roll dough, but your efforts will be richly rewarded. Your family will love you.
© 2018 Linda Lum