Last week we were walking along Cantianstrasse in Prenzlauerberg when we suddenly noticed some strange-looking hazelnut husks on the ground. Sure enough, upon closer inspection the husks contained what appeared to be smallish hazelnuts. Since no self-respecting forager could pass on this opportunity without letting his tastebuds settle the matter, we cracked open a few nuts and crunched them to oblivion. The taste was mild but distinctive enough to confirm our suspicions: we were eating hazelnuts! We looked around and saw no shrubs or bushes, only a few tall trees whose canopies were difficult to observe in the dim evening light. After returning home, we did some research and confirmed the identity of our suspect, the Turkish Hazel (Corylus colurna) tree.
Turkish Hazel is the largest species of hazel, reaching well over 20 meters with a stout, long trunk and branches that form a pyramidal shape. The nuts were introduced to Western Europe in the late 16th century from Constantinople. In recent times it has gained popularity among landscape architects and city planners because it is highly resistant to disease and pests, and tolerant of urban environments. The very characteristics that make Turkish Hazel an excellent tree for urban environments also make it suitable for large scale grafting onto the smaller, yet more well-known Common Hazel (Corylus avellina). Although Common Hazel has nuts that are slightly larger and have a stronger flavor, they also have a tendency to sucker and are susceptible to the disease known as Eastern Filbert Blight. Grafting the Common Hazel onto the Turkish Hazel eliminates these problems. Still, after snacking on Turkish Hazel nuts for a few days, we firmly believe they have culinary merit of their own.
Yesterday and today, we went back to look for more Turkish Hazel trees and were suprised to find them all over our area in Prenzlauerberg. The trees essentially line the southern side of Kopenhagenerstrasse, and are found in many nearby streets. The nuts are littering the sidewalks, and besides a few frustrated pigeons that keep picking up the nuts without being able to crack them, nobody is paying any attention to them. As a matter of fact, we often witnessed large piles of husks and nuts that were swept in street corners destined for landfills. This kind of wastefulness is astonishing, given the supposed German penchant for frugality!
To remedy this, we harvested a good amount of the Turkish Hazelnuts we found and came up with an original recipe for Turkish Hazelnut Pesto!
P.S. As we were outside shelling our foraged Turkish hazelnuts (a rather time-consuming task!), some children from the neighborhood curiously came over to see what we were doing. When their mother saw us, she asked if we had found these hazelnuts by the kindergarten down the street. Since we were not aware of any hazelnut trees in our vicinity, we immediately went to check it out and, sure enough, we found a Common Hazel leaning over the sidewalk in front of the school! We picked up a few of the hazelnuts that had fallen onto the sidewalk and quickly did a size and taste comparison. Surpisingly, we found that we actually preferred the taste of the Turkish Hazelnuts (longer harvesting workload aside)! Below are a couple of images to show the difference between the two different nuts and their husks.