The filberts are hanging heavy on the nut trees this year. It is a good thing because last year between the drought, the Stellar Jays and the Grey Squirrels, all I got from the hazelnut trees were a couple of cups of empty nuts.
Growing up on a farm with a couple of filbert trees, I did not know that they were known as hazelnuts by most of the world. I also had no idea that Oregon is one of the world leaders for hazelnut production. All I knew was that a nut fresh off the tree and smashed with a rock to break it open, offers the best tasting nut. Many hours of my youth were spent by the filbert trees. I really didn’t care for the nut once it had been dried like you would see in the grocery store unless it was baked into delicious desserts. Eating the nuts raw spoiled me for the dried versions.
There are little tricks to harvesting filberts.
First is gathering the nuts. In the big, commercial orchards, large vacuum tractors will suck up the nuts and deposit them into large bins. Here on the farm we go out daily to gather what nuts fell during the last few hours. If the nuts are left on the ground, the squirrels and dogs will do their own harvesting. Yes, dogs love nuts! You can hear them biting down to crack the shell, then instead of removing the nut they eat shell and all.
Next is drying the nuts. Commercially, nuts are put through a drier akin to a dehydrator. I place nuts on trays in single layers and let them dry for a couple of weeks. When I was growing up, we used nylons. Mom would load up a nylon leg with a bucket of nuts and place it on the porch to dry in the sun. Several times over the next weeks, she would rotate the legs of nuts so the drying would be uniform. Over the years, nylons changed from single legs to pantyhose. It was a wonderful boon to the drying process. Pantyhose held each leg full of nuts and the panty part held another leg full, three legs at a time! Those driving along the road could see what looked like the lower half of people tanning in the sunlight.
Next is cracking the nuts. Growing up, my Dad had made a cracking machine. It was a cobbled together piece of equiment with two wheels that could be adjusted to the size of the nuts needing cracking. Everything from walnuts to filberts would be crushed as they slid one by one down a track and through the machine. One of my brothers still has and uses the old machine and if I have a fantastic heavy harvest, I’ll take the pile of dried nuts down to him to crack. In the meantime, I crack them a few at a time by hand. The reason it is only a few at a time is because it doesn’t take long before blisters get in the way of a good cracking technique.
Last is shelling the nuts. Once they are all cracked, they have to be sorted to remove all of the shells, this process takes longer than all the picking, cracking and drying combined. It may take all winter.