Nut trees deserve a place in our gardens just as much as other fruit trees yet they seem to be pretty sparse with no apparent reason. They are attractive, can grow very big but are available on dwarf rootstock, they have attractive blossom, are easy to prune and their fruit can be delicious. Perhaps it’s time for a rethink? As with all home produce the key is to grow what you like to eat.
A mature walnut tree is a magnificent sight and yes that means that they can grow pretty big so before buying one do make sure you’ve got the room. Although they are fairly slow growing a fully mature walnut tree can reach 30 metres.
The romans carried walnuts with them as they marched, prizing them as a food and a source of cooking oil. In medieval times it was believed that the fruit’s resemblance to the human brain meant it could be used to cure mental disorders. The Greeks called the walnut the “royal nut” and it features in many Greek myths and legends.
Walnuts are rich in protein, antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. So not only do they taste lovely they are also a healthy food choice. In fact there are many uses for walnuts, their rich buttery taste makes them perfect for baking – who doesn’t love a walnut cake?
They are also used in liqueurs, coffee, salad dressings and the old fashioned but still wonderful walnut whips! Immature walnuts can be pickled and walnut shells are ground into flour and also used as a paint thickener.
Native to Asia and the Middle East almonds were first cultivated as far back as 3,000 BC. An open branched pretty tree the almond can grow to about 9 metres tall. The blossom is an early herald of spring but it does need a very good summer for the fruits to ripen and form nuts.
For that reason almond trees are mainly grown in the UK for their decorative shape and lovely blossom.
Greek legend has it that the wife of Demophon, King of Athens, killed herself and was then turned into an almond tree by the Gods. Almond Legend Cake is enjoyed by many on New Year’s Eve – an almond is cooked inside the cake and whoever gets the piece of cake containing the almond will have good luck in the coming year. If they don’t choke on the almond!
Almonds are very high in vitamin E, protein, magnesium, calcium and potassium so are a really healthy snack. They are used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
A variety of Hazel the Filbert is an attractive tree with rich copper foliage, deep purple catkins and purple fruit. Very colourful! Often grown as a hedge the filbert tree makes a good screen to protect other plants in exposed sites.
Filberts have been useful to man since their stems were used to build primitive coracles and many houses were built with filberts providing the “wattle” in “wattle and daub”. This involved filbert and hazel stems being woven into panels and then daubed with a mixture of mud and straw to form walls.
The filbert nut is used in the same way as the hazel or cobnut. The only difference being that the filbert can be larger with a longer husk. Rich in protein and unsaturated fat filberts are used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Praline is made using filberts and hazel nuts and the chocolate spread, Nutella uses 25% of the global supply!
Walnuts, almonds and filbert nuts are all lovely eaten green but for storing they need to be dried. This is easy enough. Simply remove the nuts from their shells, spread them out and allow them to dry in a warm, ventilated place for about a week. Then store them in airtight containers. Just don’t tell the squirrels where you’ve put them!