Grown and cold pressed in Kent, by seasonal trader Nut Farms
“We work together with a neighbouring farm which, with 17,000 cobnut trees, is probably the largest grower in the south-east,” says Edward Lade, owner of Nut Farms, whose seasonal stall is at the Market every Friday from now until Christmas, laden with an array of fresh, dried and roasted cobnuts and walnuts, preserves, condiments and oils. “Everything is grown and produced 30 miles down the road, just east of Sevenoaks.”
The cobnut season officially begins on 20th August, known as St Philbert’s Day, when the verdant and crunchy husked nuts are picked and transported to market; for the cold-pressed oil, a little more patience is required. “We leave the harvest until later, as early in the season the oil content and flavour of the nuts isn’t really there—certainly it’s subtler,” Edward explains.
Once satisfactorily ripened, the mature cobnuts are brought in from the orchards and ‘spun’ to remove their husks—“that distinctive long outer leaf, which conceals the acorn-shaped nut inside”—then put through a drier. “They’re blown gently with warm air for about two to two-and-a-half days, rather than blasted, which all helps retain the flavour.”
A screw press
Some of these nuts are sold on the stall as they are, simply dried, “but for the oil, we just want the kernel”—which means putting them through nut cracking machines to get rid of the shells. The kernels are then cold pressed. “It’s not heated at all. It all goes through a sort of screw press, which extrudes the oil. This then drips down into stainless steel vats.”
The entire process takes place on the farm, “so that we can be sure it’s absolutely top stuff,” Edward continues. “I’ve actually been pressing, filtering and bottling up the first of this season’s batch of oil myself. We’ve found it to be particularly good, like a top-quality wine,” he enthuses. “It’s all to do with the season they’ve enjoyed, which affects the flavour. I’m very excited about it.”
The distinctly nutty taste of the oil works well drizzled on soups and stews, or as a dressing for salads in a vinaigrette—but with a particularly high smoke point of around 270C, Edward loves to cook with it. “I love it with potatoes, either sautéed or roasted. Just get a potato, cut it into wedges and drizzle with the oil—you don’t need too much—and put it in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning them once. They’ll come out golden and crispy and succulent, not greasy at all. Or if you want the flavour to come through, put a splash in the pan and cook an omelette in it. It’ll be imbued with a lovely nutty flavour.”
From farm to fingers
Personally, having happily dunked away at the oil in its purest form with a bit of sourdough while taking in Edward’s pearls of wisdom, we like it as simple as it comes: exemplifying, as it does, the joy to be taken from a product grown, harvested, produced and sold with love and care, brought direct from farm to—well, our fingers.
Edward smiles: “The analogy I draw is with apples. You can buy jazz, pink lady and golden delicious in the shops, which are high yielding and crunchy and moist and they keep well. But give me a pippin or a russet, any day: just like the Kentish cob, they’re old-fashioned, but the flavour’s like nothing else.”