Foraging for Hazel Nuts

Autumn brings with it the promise of fruit and nuts, the only problem is that you may have to fight squirrels to get at them. They sit in the tall trees next door tossing spent hazel shells at Carol, quacking at her. They can hit you from fifty feet away with surprising accuracy and anger. I am not making it up about the quacking, when squirrels sound a warning they make a noise like a duck, a pissed off duck. It is eerie to be looking around for what you think is a distressed duck only to be hit in the head with a shell a second later. They're not too keen that we're taking the pears we planted a five years ago and after much training now have our first harvest. For them the pears and nuts belong to squirrel kind. The squirrels quack from the trees and we have to keep ducking as they fire at us. Squirrels have a great aim so we talk about getting helmets for next year so that we can forage in our hedge looking like Dad's Army meets Apocalypse Now, 'I love the smell of annoyed squirrels in the morning'. Don't get me started on the whatever decided to walk across my concrete, it even tried to write its name in it. 


Foraging for nuts at this time of year is easy and there are a lot of them this autumn around here, there are two types of hazel nuts in the hedge, green and the brown - really technical stuff this - you can see in the photo below the difference. Both types are edible and easy to identify. They have a completely different taste, the green is almost like an almond in texture and the brown, which is the dried green nut, has a stronger hazel taste. Hazel's great to add into chocolate, a nice block of dark chocolate melted in a glass bowl over a pan of water becomes something else when you add in your own foraged chopped up hazel nuts and fruit from the garden. You could put in blueberries, blackberries or if you're new to this, just some sultanas, currants or dried cranberries from the shop. Let it cool into your own decadent chocolate bar that you could argue is part of your five a day! 

Hazel nuts

As always only take what you need when it comes to hazel nuts. Though the squirrels are quacking at us, we won't rob them of their winter food, we'll leave them the lion's share. The best adage when foraging is don't take something you're not going to eat or preserve in the next twenty-four hours. If you're not confident about what you're picking, don't pick it or else it may be a trip to A&E that involves a hose, your stomach and pump. We won't even talk about mushrooms, we won't go there yet because you can so easily pick the wrong thing. It takes years of knowledge, not just of the types of mushroom but where they grow the best in the area you're foraging in. There are plenty of books and websites out there to help you in all aspects of foraging. We do strongly recommend one of our favourites, Food for Free by Richard Mabey. We're not new to foraging nuts or fruit in the hedgerows, and with time we have got more confident and learnt how to preserve or eat what we have. So this autumn build up a little local knowledge about what grows in your area, you'll be surprised, from the blackberries by the canal side to the forgotten apple trees by roadsides. Save some money, learn a new skill and see nature. Just remember to duck when you hear a squirrel quack.

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