History of the Hazelnut
American hazels (Corylus americana) are often gathered, but rarely cultivated and sold. The big exception occurs in Oregon—but not with the American nut. Legend has it that Frenchman David Gernot arrived in Oregon in the 17th century with European hazel trees and a personal mission. When he stumbled into the beautiful Willamette Valley, he was reminded of his home in the Loire valley. Without hesitation, he staked out his home and planted the first of his 50-tree grove. Other planters followed and by the early 1900s, hazelnut orchards had taken root in Oregon, where their nuts are produced commercially to this day. This memoir was recently given shape to me when, while biking along the Loire, I stopped to see a potter I had just met—and found her out gathering a bountiful harvest of hazels from the trees that lined her property.
All About the Filbert, Hazelnut's Cousin
Hazelnuts are also known as filberts because in Europe folklore they are ready for harvest on August 22nd, St. Philbert's Day. But they were known in China some 5000 years ago...and they were gathered by the Romans. Pliny, in fact, claims they orginated in Damascus. They are called "cobnuts" or "hazels" in the United States. Today, however, Turkey is the largest producer of these nuts. Hazel shrubs produce flowers before the leaves—the male in catkins; the female, inconspicuous; both on the same tree. Thus accounting perhaps for Virginia Woolf's description of Osbert (brother of Edith) Sitwell's poems: "All foliage and no filberts."
Interested in learning more about the hazelnut's cousin? Visit the Wikipedia entry and continue learning about the filbert (Corylus maxima).