This British delicacy, the cobnut, is a type of hazelnut with a green husk encasing a milky white, crunchy yet creamy kernel. Although the conbuts have been grown in orchards since the 16th century it was first noted for its delicacy by medieval gourmets early in the 19th century.
A designer and builder of pianos, Richard Dain, turned to cobnuts after losing his apple orchard in the 1987 storms. He is rather an inventor when it comes to the potential of the cobnut. This retired engineer created his own machine for cracking and shelling the cobnuts.
After drying the cobnuts for three days, he experimented in pressing the kernels into cobnut oil which he entered in the Great Taste Awards and won the Supreme Champion prize. Cobnut oil can be purchased at Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges. It takes a kilo of nuts to produce and this extra virgin, cold pressed oil is selling for £12.95 for 750ml.
According to Catherine Robinson, a friend of Richards and who assists on his Hurstwood Farm, this cobnut oil can be heated to higher temperatures that olive oil, the flavour is less intensive but nutty when cooked and is great for basting or roasting.
Dain’s next venture is to introduce the first cobnut flour which will be natural and gluten free. He is working closely with the Lighthouse Bakery in East Sussex on bread recipes. He also hopes to manufacture skin products.
Other initiatives from cobnuts are savoury biscuits with Kentish Ashmore cheese and these were created by Alexander Kent of Potash Farm and Chairman of the Kentish Cobnut Association. He has produced fudge, chutney, shortbread and cobnut brittle.
Advice from Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of The British Larder and former chef to Gordon Ramsay, is to dry roast the cobnut for about 30 minutes, allowing them to harden and sprinkled with a little sea salt are a great accompaniment to champagne.
Also great tasting is Marc Demarquette’s award winning cobnut caramel praline. He feels the cobnut is much nuttier than the hazelnut and his inspiration for the praline was when he discovered that the cobnut, when eaten with honey, was a cure for coughs.
Fresh cobnuts, still in their husks, can be bought fresh but most are sold already dried and processed. The fresh cobnuts can be obtained each Saturday from Green Grocer, Tony Booth, in the food centre in Malty Street, Bermondsey and by post from Allens Farm in Kent.