By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
Did you know that Oregon’s Willamette Valley produces 99.9 percent of the nation’s domestic hazelnut crop?
An early grower was Ferd Groner.
In 1880, at the age of 17, Ferd helped his family build a grand Victorian-style house. The historic estate still stands about 20 miles southwest of Portland.
After taking over the family business at age 28, when his father died, Ferd built a farming empire around hay and walnuts. Somewhere along the way he also put in a hazelnut orchard, which grew to 200 acres.
It wasn’t until 1943, when he was 80, that Ferd decided he needed some help with the orchard. His ad in the Oreognian was answered by Andrew Loughridge, who had a wife and infant son to support and needed the work.
To the questions posed by Ferd, “Do you smoke? Do you drink?” Andy was able to answer in the negative.
Ferd took a shine to him and even invited the family to move into living quarters on the lower level of his brick mansion.
The Loughridge family lived in the main house for about a year before moving to another house on the estate. A few short years after that, Ferd died. In his will, he bequeathed half of the hazelnut orchard — 100 acres — to Andy. And so, for the next 60 years, Andy grew hazelnuts.
It was a life that suited a man with such a strong work ethic, with the consistency of its year-round demands.
His barn-like red nut dryer, with its iconic cupola, drew customers from near and far. Others came to Loughridge Farm to buy his nuts. And after Andy filled up their bags and weighed them, he always topped off the purchase with a few extras, just in case there were some bad ones.
Up to the age of 89, he was still farming the entire orchard on his own, with only one hired hand. Then he leased out all but 5 acres, which he kept working.
In November 2005, at the age of 94, Andy suffered a debilitating stroke. That previous October, however, he had participated in the harvest one last time. He’d raked the end rows in the orchard, run the sweeper, and even driven the tractor pulling the harvester that picked up the wind-rowed nuts.
Before his death, he was told that the price for nuts had hit a new high, $1 a pound. His eyes lit up: “I’ll have to tell the bank to get a bigger box to put my money in.”
You’ll begin to notice lots of markets rejoicing in the fact that the harvest has begun because they can now boast “new crop” hazelnuts. Here are a few ways to relish their goodness.
Three things happen when you roast a hazelnut: it gets more flavorful, it blushes from the inside, and it takes on a pleasing crunch. So you definitely want to roast them in most cases.
Another way to look at it is that roasting almost always improves how hazelnuts perform in a given recipe.
This is simple stuff, roasting hazelnuts. There is no absolute right way to do it. The pendulum swings from “low-and-slow” all the way over to “high-and-fast.”
I tend to go for the middle range, 350 degrees. At that temperature you have quite a bit of control over the outcome. A medium roast only takes about 15 to 20 minutes. At higher temperatures, things move a bit quicker, and it’s easy to overshoot your desired endpoint.
When you begin to smell the delicious toasty aroma, it’s time to start checking the roasting progress. The longer you roast hazelnuts, the richer their flavor. You have to decide how deep of a roast you want based on how you’re planning on using them.
Light roast: The skins have cracked on the majority of the nuts and the surface of the nut will still be a creamy-ivory color. Break into one of the nuts (careful, they’re hot!). It’s center will be a slightly darker color, a sort of beige.
Medium roast: The skins will have cracked on the majority of the nuts and surfaces will still be a creamy-ivory color (just about the same color as the light roast). Centers will be notably darker than the surface color.
Dark roast: The skins will have darkened more and cracked on the majority of the nuts; surfaces will have darkened to a pale tan. Centers will be very dark (and getting darker faster at this point, so get those nuts out of the oven, they’re done!).
The time-honored approach to skinning involves roasting and then rubbing them around inside a towel. But this method produces only a 40 percent to 60 percent success, depending on the variety of hazelnut.
Another method is to simply throw the cooled roasted hazelnuts into a tupperware container with a tight lid and simply shake them violently. The skins will literally peel away from the abrasion.
Then tumble the nuts onto a baking sheet, walk outside, and blow away the papery skins.
A hazelnut treat
Chock-full of toasty hazelnuts and almonds, luscious dried figs and thick, golden honey, this is fantastic treat that pairs fabulously with that after-dinner Scotch.
But it’s also an energizing mid-afternoon snack, either at home, or on the trail, enjoyed at the upper-most end of an alpine day hike. And because it’s sturdy in nature, it gets high grades in the transportability department, too.
You can make several batches now to have on hand for gifts (consider it a sophisticated “fruit cake”) or to tuck into your back pack for winter hikes and ski trips.
8ounces dried black Mission figs (see note below)
2/3cup all-purpose flour
2tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2teaspoons freshly grated orange peel
1/8teaspoon ground cloves
1cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts
1cup whole, roasted almonds (see instructions for roasting hazelnuts)
2/3cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan and set aside. If you don’t have a springform pan, line a 10-inch round or square baking pan with heavy-duty foil, then butter and flour the foil. The foil will help you lift the baked panforte from the pan after it’s cooled.
Trim the tiny stem end from each dried fig. Slice the figs into very thin pieces (each tiny little dried fig should be cut into at least 6 slender pieces); set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, orange peel, cinnamon and ground cloves.
Coarsely chop the hazelnuts and almonds. By “coarsely chop” I mean simply cut each nut into 2 or 3 pieces. Naturally, during the chopping some pieces will get even smaller than that, but the idea is to have fairly large chunks of nuts in the finished panforte. Add the nuts and the prepared figs to the flour mixture and toss thoroughly to evenly coat the fruit and nuts; set aside.
Pour the sugar and honey into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir gently to combine. Scrape the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula to remove any honey and sugar crystals. Now set the pan over low heat. Without stirring, let the mixture heat up so the sugar can begin to dissolve. Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking without stirring. The syrup will become quite foamy as it boils. Do NOT stir the mixture.
Hook a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to let the mixture boil without stirring until the thermometer reaches between 240 and 245 degrees, which is the soft ball stage in candy-making terminology.
Remove the syrup from the heat and immediately stir it into the flour/fruit/nut mixture. The mixture will firm up immediately, but keep stirring to make sure the syrup is evenly distributed throughout. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Moisten your fingers with tap water and use them to press the thick-and-sticky mixture evenly into the pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until the mixture puffs slightly and releases a wonderful toasty aroma, about 35 minutes. At this point, the panforte will be soft and sticky when prodded with a dull knife.
Remove from oven and let cool on a rack at room temperature. Once the panforte has cooled thoroughly, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place. It will keep for months.
Traditionally, panforte that has been baked in a round pan is cut into wedges. But for backpacking or hiking purposes, I prefer to cut the round into thirds, then cut each third into 1/2-inch wide bars.
Note on figs: I found mine in the bulk foods section of a natural foods grocery store. Wherever you go, if the black Mission variety isn’t available, but another type is, go ahead and substitute.
Makes about 36 (1 x 2-inch) pieces.
Ginger cookies with hazelnut twist
Whenever we’re about to start a big hike into the Wallowas (Oregon’s answer to the Swiss Alps), we generally spend a night in La Grande.
For many years on such stop-overs, we would plan a visit to Foley Station, where no matter what time of day, the food was always creative and smashing, thanks to the restaurant’s owner/chef Merlyn Baker.
Sadly, Chef Baker retired just last year, and so the experience is to be no more.
But happily, I was able to wrangle some wonderful recipes out of Baker before his departure. One such gem is this cookie.
OK, so the hazelnut back portion of this recipe was my idea, not Chef Baker’s. But I wanted to find a way to incorporate my favorite nut into his delightful cookie recipe.
And Baker did give it his approval. The original recipe (without hazelnuts) is my son Brandon’s favorite cookie. In fact, he’s the one who suggested I try to talk Baker out of it several years ago. True to form, Baker didn’t disappoint. So Brandon and I have been able to duplicate this marvelous treat ever since.
Foley Station triple ginger cookies with hazelnut back
1/2cup unsalted butter
1cup packed brown sugar
4tablespoons dark molasses
2 1/4cups all purpose flour
1 1/2teaspoons baking soda
2teaspoons ground ginger
2tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2cup chopped crystallized ginger (see note)
1/2cup finely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
36whole hazelnuts, lightly roasted and skinned
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses, blending well.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground ginger. Blend the flour mixture with the grated fresh ginger, crystalized ginger, and chopped hazelnuts, then blend with the butter mixture. Chill the dough for about 1 hour.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Portion the dough into desired size cookies (Chef Baker recommends 1/4 cup-sized scoops) onto a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving at least 1-inch space around each cookie. Press a whole hazelnut into the center of each cookie, then sprinkle each portion of dough with the reserved granulated sugar. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies and the desired level of crispness.
Note on crystalized ginger: Look for crystalized ginger in well-stocked bulk food sections and Asian markets. To easily chop, sprinkle the ginger with some granulated sugar while chopping to keep it from sticking to your knife, then sift the ginger out of the sugar. Reserve the sugar to coat the cookies before baking.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.