23 October 1998

COBNUTS,

KENTISH STYLE

KEN the Kentish Cobnut is the delightful character in a charming new nut cookbook* And it is not just for vegetarians.

Pork with Kentish cobnuts and mushrooms, Kentish cobnut and meatloaf and Kentish cobnut fishcakes, prove the point, while Kentish cobnut dumplings and Kentish cobnuts with pears and cream are examples of dishes that both meat-eaters and vegetarians may enjoy.

There are 19 recipes in this attractively illustrated little book which is the brainchild of Rory Clark who with his farming partner Alexander Hunt is the largest cobnut producer in the country. Based at Hadlow, near Tonbridge, in Kent, the partners have 31ha (78 acres) made up of 35 different "plats" as the cobnut orchards are called locally.

&#42 Since Tudor days

Cobnuts have been grown in this country since Tudor times and reached a peak of popularity in the Victorian period when 2834ha (7000 acres) were grown. Now, although the area has declined to around 101ha (250 acres), cobnuts seem to be making a comeback and become a more and more familiar sight on the supermarket shelves. One chain is selling them in 1lb pre-packed bags.

Exploiting our apparent passion for cocoa, Messrs Hunt & Clark have come up with the idea of chocolate covered cobnuts and this year marks their third in production. The nuts are dried naturally, shelled and then roasted on site before being sent away to a chocolatier. Under the trade name of Plattinums they are sold in 100g (4oz) boxes to high class shops such as Fortnum & Mason, delicatessens and tourist outlets.

&#42 Traditional home

Kent is the traditional home of another crop in decline, the hop, from a one time high of 29150ha (72,000 acres) nationwide, down to 3036ha (7500 acres). But hops are now being used in products other than beer. One of these is the latest in the Plattinum range where hop oils now flavour chocolates. Plans are in hand to develop similar merchandise using natural ingredients.

Nick Spurling

*Ken the Kentish Cobnut by Rory Clark and illustrated by Lucy Pitt. Mail order from Meresbrough Books Ltd, Rainham, Gillingham, Kent ME8 7RS (01634-388812) (£2.99 inc P&P).

Above: Harvesting in progress and its a family affair. One supermarket chain is now selling pre-packed bags of cobnuts, like the one shown below.

Alexander Hunt (left) and Rory Clark with boxes of cobnuts ready for despatch.

Right: A sample from this seasons harvest. Far right: The cookbook starring cobnut Ken.