Sunday, October 08, 2006
Kentish Cobnut Cake
...try saying that with your mouth full.
A cobnut is a type of hazelnut. The Kentish Cob variety, is ,however, not a hazelnut but a filbert - a slightly different species - according to the Oxford Companion to Food and the Oxford A-Z of Food and Drink (see also here. However, the websites of the Kentish Cobnut Association and www.cobnuts.co.uk, both state that Kentish Cobs are hazelnuts. If you know the definite answer please do let me know! Cobs take their name from the Old English 'cop' which meant head or 'cobbe' which meant any round object. The same descriptive word was also used for the cob loaf (a type of bread). Cobnuts were used as a predecessor to conkers in a similiar game called 'coblenut' (bet those 16th century schoolchildren didn't have to worry about Health & Safety leglislation).
A Mr. Lambert first cultivated the Kentish Cob in Kent in 1830, although other varieties of filbert and hazelnut were also planted commerically throughout the county and had been since the late 18th century. In Kent the orchards where the cob/filbert trees are grown are referred to as 'plats'. The harvesting of the nuts was traditionally carried out by itinerant pickers (just as the hops of Kent drew Londoners out to the countryside to earn some extra money); whether this is still the case I don't know, as the cultivation of cobs is carried out on a lesser scale now than in the early 20th century (7,325 acres pre 1914, and only 200-300 acres today). The first picking of the season is carried out in August, when the nuts are still very green and 'wet'. The second picking is about a month later, when the nuts have dried and ripened a little. A final sweep of the plats is done later to harvest anything still left on the trees. Both the green and the ripened nuts can be eaten, and at each stage the nuts can be roasted to enhance their flavour.
How to roast cobnuts (from the website of the Kentish Cobnut Association):
Crack and shell them, then cook them on tinfoil or a baking tray in an oven heated to about 150°C, 300°F, Gas Mark 2, for an hour or so; the cooking time depends on how ripe and how dry they are. First they become soft, but do not remove them until they have hardened, but have not blackened. They can also be cooked in a microwave oven; 4 oz of kernels will typically take 6 minutes on high.
I bought my Kentish cobnuts from Waitrose. I spy them each year, and as far as I know they are the only supermarket to stock them locally. I like the fact that they still have their husks on them. How nice to be able to buy something that hasn't been stripped, sanitised and wrapped in plastic. Duly roasted as per the above instructions, I proceeded with a recipe from 'English Teatime Recipes'.
225g self-raising flour
1 rounded teaspoon of ginger
110g butter (at room temperature)
110g brown sugar
50g Kentish cobnuts, roasted and chopped
1 large egg, beaten
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Grease a baking tin of approx. 9" by 4". I used a loaf tin instead as my shallow (square) tin was too large.
3. Sift flour into a bowl with the ginger.
4. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
5. Add the sugar and the nut and mix well.
6. Stir in the beaten egg. The mixture will remain fairly dry and crumbly.
7. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and pat down gently with a fork.
8. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes. I took mine out after 20, but after cutting a slice I put it back in the oven for another 15 mintures. This was because the centre of the cake was very moist looking; however, after further cooking it still looked exactly the same so I concluded that this was how it was supposed to be.
9. If using a shallow cake tin, cut the cake into squares.
The cake has a very loose, crumbly texture - unsurprising considering the appearance of the mixure. Indulgent toppings for your slice of cake might be honey or nutella, alternatively a crisp, sharp tasting apple sliced thinly. A proper Kentish drink to accompany your cake would be a draft of cider - should you have any left over from last time's cake-making...
Check out www.cobnuts.co.uk for other recipe ideas - damson and cobnut mincemeat caught my eye. Make now in time for that only-to-be-mentioned-post-1st-of-December event.