Plaxtol, Nr Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0QZ 01732 447908
Man has enjoyed wild hazelnuts from time immemorial, and cultivated hazels, sometimes known as filberts, have been grown in Britain since at least the 16th century. Children played an early version of “conkers” with hazelnuts; the game was called cobnut, and the winning nut the cob.
A Kentish cobnut is a type of hazelnut. Most of the hazelnuts grown in Britain are of the named variety Kentish Cob, which was introduced in the early 19th century, but growers are now beginning to plant other varieties too. However, they all taste relatively similar - more similar than different varieties of apple for example.
More cobnuts are grown in Kent than anywhere else, but there are commercial producers in several other countries too.
Cobnuts are marketed fresh, not dried like most other nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Consequently they can usually only be bought when in season, typically from about the middle of August through to October, although stored nuts may be kept until Christmas. At the beginning of the season the husks are green and the kernels particularly juicy. Nuts harvested later on have brown shells and husks, and the full flavour of the kernel has developed.
Cobnuts were popular with mariners, as they kept fresh for months, and the Victorians were devoted to them and bred many new kinds. In 1913, plantations extended to over 7,000 acres, most of the orchards or “plats” being in Kent. Stored nuts were available from London wholesalers for most of the year, and fetched high prices. However, today, 200 - 250 acres of old plats survive, but new orchards are once again being planted, of Kentish Cob as well as other hazelnut varieties. Fortunately cobnuts are not prone to pests and diseases, and there is rarely any commercial need for crop protectants or fertilisers; many growers use none at all. The crop is picked by hand.
Types of Cobnut
Kentish Cob: A reliable crop, relatively hardy, with excellent flavour; also available as Longue d'Espagne; pollinated by Gunslebert, Cosford and Merveille de Bollwiller.
Gunslebert: hardy, vigorous and very productive producing medium-sized nuts: pollinated by Cosford and Kentish Cob.
Merveille de Bollwiller; Also called Hall's Giant; a hardy, vigorous and productive variety with large nuts; pollinated by Cosford, Butler, Ennis and Kentish Cob.
Butler: A large mid to late season nut, hardy, vigorous and a heavy crop; a short-husked variety that de-husks freely when ripe; popular for modern commercial production; pollinated by Ennis, Merveille de Bollwiller.
Ennis; a very attractive large round nut with a superb flavour, but tendency to produce a significant proportion of blank nuts limits commercial value; pollinated by Butler, Merveille de Bollwiller.
Cosford: this is one of the best-flavoured varieties, with thin-shelled nuts, but it is not a heavy bearer; pollinated by Gunslebert, Merveille de Bollwiller, Kentish Cob.
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**this information was supplied by the Kentish Cobnuts Association
There are a couple of excellent books about Cobnuts....