Hazlenuts are said to be a symbol of concentrated wisdom, their canes are the best wood for making wands and deterring snakes, finding water and even finding those guilty of theft! I never knew that hazelnuts canes had so many uses and were so imbedded in Asturian and Celtic mythology. I did however know they form an important part of the Asturian landscape and particularly here in Eastern Asturias where every year on the first Sunday of October a special fiesta is held in the neighbouring town of Infiesto in honour of the Hazelnut.
Hazelnuts grow well in Asturias and you can still see many fine old hazelnut hedges dividing fields particularly on the mountain farms where modernization and “farm plot plans” haven’t destroyed all the traditional boundaries. Hazelnut canes lend themselves well to weaving and many a traditional fence is made from layered and cut hazelnut canes. The weaved canes were also used quite frequently as “walls” in farm buildings. On our farm we started planting hazelnuts along some of the boundaries with the idea of making these traditional fences, hopefully it won’t be too long before the bushes are big enough for us to start cutting, layering and weaving their canes and we can try our skills at this traditional craft.
This area used to be an important producer and exporter of hazelnuts producing more than 2 million kilos a year at the end of the 19th century with boat loads of hazelnuts leaving the port of Gijon for the UK. Sadly the production went into a steep decline due to export restrictions in favour of Cataluña and Tarragona became the major producer of Spanish hazelnuts.
Hazelnut fruits on the farm in July
Hazelnut bush next to a stone boundry
There are various initiatives to try and recuperate the old hazelnut plantations as well start new plantations. The hazelnut “fair” in Infiesto is seen as a way of helping the local people sell their crops and encourage them to look after their bushes, there are also some subsidies for new plantations. Last winter we planted a few hazelnut bushes on the farm in the form of a plantation (as opposed to a hedgerow) so as to help diversify the crops we grow and do our little bit in helping to recuperate this traditional Asturian crop.