Kent might be mostly known for hop, cherry and apple growing. However, there's another delicacy hailing from this county that's making a welcome revival. The cobnut. Regula aka Miss Foodwise explores the growth of the nutritious cobnut and shares her delightful recipe for cobnut and apple tart.
When I think of my beloved Kent, apples, cobnuts, cherries and hops are the four things that define this county for me. They have moulded the landscape with their orchards and plats and have influenced the kitchens and culture.
I discovered Kentish cobnuts on a late summer's day when they are sold fresh in their green husks. The kernels are then juicy and resemble a chestnut flavour, yet more delicate. When autumn arrives the cobnuts are ripened, the husks, then turned brown, are removed and they look more like the hazelnut we generally know. Now they are dried and referred to as Golden Cobnuts. The flavour of the nut has developed while ripening, and has gone from fresh and juicy to an intense nutty flavour. When stored dry they keep till Christmas. The Kentish cobnut is larger and more ovoid shaped than a hazelnut and also has a different and slightly more intense flavour.
Cobnuts generally grow in Kent, where the variety the 'Kentish Cob' was planted in the 19th century by a Mr Lambert of Goudhurst.
They have however been around since Tudor times and were but revived by the Victorians who considered them to be a delicacy. There are more varieties of cobnuts but as Kent has historically been the main county producing cobnuts, the term Kentish cob is often used generally for every variety of cobnut grown in Britain.
Cobnut orchards are known as 'plats' and the nuts are harvested by hand by workmen called 'nutters'. In the old days cobnuts were also sometimes picked by hop pickers coming down from London as cobnuts and hops both ripen at the same time. The disappearance of the Hop pickers roughly corresponds with the decline of the cobnut plats.
The last few years there's been a revival in cobnut growing as well as in hop growing as many people are opting to buy British and the growing amount of micro breweries are showing interest in Kentish hops again. Cherry orchards are being planted once more and apples are still plentiful and taking over the British greengrocers.
I had Kent on my mind when my sack of golden cobnuts from Farnell Farm arrived and I was also in need of a cake or tart that is not only comforting and cosy on a dreary autumn day but also a bit more nutritious than your average tart.
This cobnut and apple tart is something between a cake and a tart, I am using spelt flour and lots of cobnuts and apples so this tart will not only give you your dose of sweets but also energy.
Cobnut and apple tart
• 150 g spelt flour
• 100 unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 50 g light soft brown sugar
• 2 free-range eggs, beaten
• 50 g (1 cup) *cobnuts, shells removed, roasted and finely chopped
• 2 large apples or 3 smaller (Cox or Bramley) sliced in discs
• 1 teaspoon of cobnut brandy if you've made some, cider or apple juice
• 1 teaspoon of sugar to finish of the apples on top of the batter to create a caramelised finish.
*You can use hazelnuts but you will have to remove the skin after roasting. You can do this by rubbing them roughly in a tea towel.
To roast the cobnuts
Remove the shells, arrange on a tray and place them in an oven at 160C for 45 minutes, let them cool before chopping them. When you take them out of the oven they need to harden first. You will get the best results in flavour if you chop the nuts instead of using a pestle and mortar.
Preheat the oven to 160C
Line your 25 cm round shallow cake tin with baking paper.
Combine your butter with the sugar and whisk until creamy
Beat in the eggs one at a time
Add the flour and combine to create a dough
Now fold in the chopped cobnuts and a teaspoon of brandy, cider or apple juice
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, gently spreading the batter into all the corners
Neatly arrange the apple slices over the dough and sprinkle one teaspoon of sugar over the apples
Put the cake in to the oven and bake for 60 min, or until the apples are lovely and golden
Set the cake aside to cool slightly in the tin.
Keep in an airtight container, that way the tart will keep for 5 days.
Visit the Kentish Cobnuts Association for a list of cobnut suppliers.
What are some of your favourite additions for an apple tart or pie? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.