Friday, January 19, 2007


click photo to enlarge
When the Ice Age ended in Britain the hazel was one of the first trees to colonise the land, and for a time it must have been the dominant tree. But with warmth and time came the larger species like the oak, the lime and the pines, and the smaller hazel was pushed to the edge of the forest, or struggled under the higher leaf canopy. However, birds like the jay and the magpie and animals such as the squirrel and the wild boar ensured that it continued and spread as they ate and deposited its nuts across the land. And early man too found Britain's only native wild nut worth cultivating for its food value. Later, in medieval times it was planted and grown for food, and for its wood, being coppiced for hurdles, wattle, basketware, and many other purposes. In recent centuries cultivated varieties, the filbert and the Kentish Cob, came to dominate the market in hazelnuts for eating and today these are still grown and sold.

Walnuts were introduced into Britain by the Romans. They prized "the mast of Jove" for its nut and the topaz oil that it produced. Medieval monasteries planted walnut trees, and later it was a feature of country house orchards. The wood of the tree was also valued, and is found in high quality veneers showing its lovely swirling burr. For many years a significant number of trees could be found across the country to meet the demand for walnut. However, despite the best efforts of enthusiasts like John Evelyn, by the early twentieth century only one walnut plantation remained in England, near Colchester, Essex. Specimen trees still flourish, and the Walnut Club and others work to popularise this interesting species. The market for walnuts to be eaten has been supplied almost entirely by imports for many years.

The hazel nuts and walnuts above are the last of those bought by me for eating over the Christmas period. On a dull, damp day, engaged on repairs to my fence after heavy winds, I took a break and set up this photograph. I placed the nuts and an old nutcracker on a mirror, put a sheet of black vinyl behind, and bounced the flash off a sheet of white foamboard placed to the right. I used a 70mm (35mm equivalent) macro lens, with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f18 at 1/80 second), with the camera at ISO 100 and -1.0 EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen