History of Food

History of Food

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2 is National Hazelnut Cake Day

What do you know about hazelnuts?  When I started researching, all I knew was that hazelnuts are nuts.  I have hence learned that hazelnuts are more than nuts.  They are, in fact, they nuts that are fruits  of the from the "birch"or Betulaceae family of trees.

Hazelnuts, a member of the Corylus botanical family, have been cultivated in China for more than 5,000 years. The hazel part of its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word haesel meaning a headdress or bonnet, referring to the shape of outer shell covering. Hazelnuts are reputed to be native to Asia Minor, from whence they spread to Italy, Spain, France, and Germany via Greece. Prior to the 1940s, hazelnuts were imported to the States. Today they are grown commercially in the Northwest US. 

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. In Oregon, "filbert" is used for commercial hazelnuts in general. Use in this manner has faded partly due to the efforts of Oregon's hazelnut growers to brand their product to better appeal to global markets and avoid confusion.

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."

One of my hobbies is to investigate the etymology of words.  What is etymology?  The word comes the late 14th century and it's base is ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word.

When investigating the etymology of hazelnut all definitive road maps lead to filbert which is they are synonymous.  The etymology for 'filbert' is Norman French. Saint Philibert's feast day is 20 August (old style) and the plant was possibly renamed after him because the nuts were mature on this day.

Now that I have taxed my brain on a Saturday I think I am going to go enjoy some hazelnut...coffee..I am too lazy to bake a cake.

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