Fresh, new season walnuts from Kent
“I don’t know many producers growing germisara. A lot of them have never heard of it,” says Charles Tebbut of the latest walnut offering at Food and Forest. Though his hail from a small orchard in Kent, the germisara cultivar actually originates from Romania which, prior to the second world war, was the biggest walnut producing nation in the world. “It is fantastic,” Charles enthuses. “The shape of it, and the way the husk falls off so cleanly without leaving any markings behind on the nut”—not to mention the taste, he continues, which is “slightly lighter” than you’d expect from a typical walnut.
Dried, they are crunchy, slightly buttery and smooth; wet, as they are now and will be for another few weeks, they are fresh and clean, with a crisp, fruit-like bite to them that cries out for a soft cheese or maybe an apple, Italian-style. “In Italian families, there is a bit of a culture of shelling them for dessert with an apple or something like that,” he explains. Other customers say they scatter them atop treacle tarts, in place of pecans. For his own part, Charles loves fresh walnuts “dry fried in a pan with fresh chilli, with black pepper and freshly grated lime zest added last minute. It’s like bang bang chicken with walnut,” he jokes. “I have it as a snack or add it to steamed veg before serving.”
Cooking and pickling
The wet germisara walnuts lend themselves to cooking and pickling. Some people like eating them straight, but Charles’ general recommendation is that customers leave them in their shells for a few weeks at home before cracking them: the flavour will still be fresh, but it will be more familiarly walnut-y than they are right now. Alternatively, you could come back in a few weeks. “In a fortnight or so I am taking them up to the Cotswolds, where they will be dried and shelled,” Charles explains. It’s good news for those who prefer their nuts readily accessible; less so for those who like to crack open fresh, undried walnuts in one hand (impossible once the nut is dried) in front of their friends as a party trick.
So, what are the advantages of buying germisara walnuts from Charles, as opposed to your standard retailer? For one thing, nuts are sold in reusable jars, which customers are encouraged to bring with them when they come to restock. They’ll be given a new nut-filled jar and the old one will be washed, sterilised and refilled. Second, the producer’s small orchard doubles up as an agricultural research centre. What’s more, all the profit from Food and Forest goes into supporting the establishment of alley cropping—the planting of rows of trees between alleys of crops or pasture, which helps prevent soil erosion and improve biodiversity—as a viable, sustainable farming method here in the UK.
“We’re a registered social enterprise. Everything we make has to go toward our stated aim of making alley cropping a reality, from working with DEFRA to create a grant, to generating demand and recognition for agroforestry produce,” says Charles. It’s one small snack for you that will, all being well, result in a huge leap for the sustainability of agriculture in the UK.