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.