A Hands-on Hazelnut Weekend in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Excursions to Hazelnut Hill’s family orchard and the Dorris Ranch living history museum broaden our love of this tasty nut.

If you’ve ever taken a drive through the Oregon countryside, odds are, you’ve happened upon a hazelnut orchard. Recently, though, it has felt like hazelnut trees are everywhere. As it turns out, I wasn’t imagining things, 2020 is forecast to break records for hazelnut production in Oregon. With harvest season wrapping up and holiday baking and gift-giving just beginning, the time was right to learn more about this versatile nut, starting with an excursion to Hazelnut Hill’s family orchard and capping off with a stroll through the nation’s oldest hazelnut orchard.

But First: 10 Fun Facts About Hazelnuts!

  1. Hazelnuts and filberts are two names for the same thing. (I had thought that “filbert” was an Oregon thing, but in fact, filbert is the correct term for both the tree and the nut.)
  2. Italy is the top consumer of hazelnuts in the world. If you’ve traveled to Italy or enjoyed Italian cuisine, this may not come as a surprise, when you recall all the wonderful Italian delights made with hazelnuts. Think NutellaFrangelicoBaci, hazelnut gelato… Yum!
  3. Three of the four top global consumers of hazelnuts are in Europe. (France and Germany are also big fans.) When we were in France, their little petite espresso with milk is called “noisette,” which means hazelnut.
  4. Oregon’s Willamette Valley supplies 99% of the U.S. grown hazelnut market.
  5. Dorris Ranch, the nation’s oldest commercial hazelnut orchard and living history farm, is a wonderful place to visit with the entire family. 
  6. Hazelnuts were likely first introduced by French settlers in Oregon.
  7. Hazelnut harvest season is in fall, and hazelnut trees bloom and pollinate in the winter.
  8. These small nuts are a great source of energy and packed with nutritional benefits
  9. Hazelnuts are less popular in the U.S. than they are abroad, but oddly hazelnut coffee flavoring is very popular in the U.S. and not in Europe. 
  10. Although 99% of the U.S. hazelnut crop is grown in Oregon, only 1% of the hazelnuts are grown organically, but a dedicated cooperative is working to change that.

Now that we have learned a few interesting facts about hazelnuts, it is time to visit a local hazelnut orchard and confectionary, for some experiential learning.

A Trip To Hazelnut Hill

When I envisioned this blog post, I knew I wanted to take a trip to a local orchard, and reached out to several Willamette Valley hazelnut growers from Creswell to Salem. COVID-19 and harvest season posed extra challenges, but Rachel Henderson of Hazelnut Hill embraced my idea and welcomed me and my family to her family farm and orchard near Eugene, Oregon.

About Hazelnut Hill

Hazelnut Hill is a small family orchard and confectionary located in the abundant Willamette Valley. Ryan and Rachel Henderson tend 400 acres of hazelnut trees located on the sprawling family farm at Thistledown Farm as well as operating a commercial confectionary. (Ryan Henderson, Rachel’s husband, is part owner of Thistledown Farm.) 

Visiting the Farm

One lovely fall day Rachel suggested that we meet her in the Thistledown parking lot. When we arrived, we earned that the farm was closed for the season, and she not only was welcoming us on a special tour but probably on her day off as well. We feel very thankful to have had this special opportunity.

Visiting the Orchard

After we connected, Rachel took us on a short stroll to the nearby sprawling orchard, where we walked through the many rows of mature 40-year-old trees. We lucked out with a beautiful fall day that was crisp but not too cold. The trees were already dormant, with blankets of leaves covering the ground crunching pleasantly underfoot.

Rachel explained that the harvest had already happened, typically harvest occurs in late September or October, and the nuts are all swept into rows and gathered up. They are then sent to the filbert dryer where they are washed, dried, and shelled, and returned to the grower.

Although the farm employs around 12 workers, the orchard is primarily tended by the husband-wife team, as is the commercial confectionary.

Rachel patiently responded to all of our questions and waited as we strolled through the orchard, snapping photos, and of course, the kids couldn’t help but climb a few trees.

A Glimpse Into Hazelnut Hill’s Commercial Kitchen

Just like the orchard, Hazelnut Hill’s commercial confectionary is a “mom-and-pop” operation, with Ryan and Rachel working tirelessly in the kitchen to produce an array of products from raw roasted nuts, nut butter, and gluten-free nut flours; to gift boxes, candies, and other treats.

Because of COVID-19, we were not able to visit the confectionary in person, but Rachel shared some photos of the process with us.

Rachel and Ryan Henderson work together to spread hazelnut brittle – a sticky process! Photo: Hazelnut Hill.

Rachel whips up a batch of her delicious hazelnut pancake mix. (She sent us home with some, and it was scrumptious!) Photo: Hazelnut Hill.

We were lucky to head home with a wonderful selection of goodies. I’ll admit, the brittle was gone in a minute, and the pancakes the very next morning. All of Hazelnut Hill’s tasty products are available online.

A Side Trip To Dorris Ranch Living History Farm

Since we were spending the weekend thinking about, learning about, and indulging in hazelnuts, it seemed fitting to take a side trip to Dorris Ranch, the nation’s oldest hazelnut farm and a national historic site. If you read my earlier post, “Fun Fall Excursions in the Southern Willamette Valley,” I include a trip to Dorris Ranch as a great family excursion in the Eugene-Springfield area. Explore the more than four miles of walking paths and you will wander through orchards, forestlands, and along the serene Willamette River. The trails are great for bike riding too!

Supporting Oregon Hazelnut Growers

This holiday season, goodies made with hazelnuts make wonderful stocking stuffers, gifts, and of course, they are a tasty ingredient for both savory and sweet homemade goodies as well. A few ideas of local Willamette Valley hazelnut growers to support include:

Hazelnut Hill, in the Willamette Valley near Eugene Oregon, is the perfect “one-stop-shop” for an array of locally grown, locally crafted hazelnut goodies and gift boxes that you can purchase from the comfort of your own home.

Honor Earth Farm, a small organic farm in the Willamette Valley, offers several premium organically grown hazelnut products.

Hummingbird Wholesale, located in Eugene Oregon, offers a variety of wholesale products such as organic hazelnut granola and nut butter.

My Brother’s Farm, located in Creswell Oregon, offers roasted and raw organic hazelnuts for DIY baking projects.

Freddy’s Guys, located in the mid-Willamette Valley in Wilsonville Oregon, offers gift packs, oils, and breakfast mixes.

Hazelnut Recipe Ideas

In addition to buying pre-made locally produced products, the sky’s the limit for cooking and baking with hazelnuts in your own home this holiday season, and I for one am inspired to roll up my sleeves and try a few new recipes myself. One Christmas, I made an Italian hazelnut cake, and it was lovely. This year I am planning to try making hazelnut granola and dark chocolate hazelnut bark. (Update! I found and tried a delicious hazelnut bark recipe, linked here, and it was a huge hit with the people I gifted it to.) Food and Wine also features a gallery of wonderful recipe ideas to get you started.

To close, one of the special things about hazelnuts is that they bloom in the middle of winter, in January and February. So, although we are just heading into our bleakest winter months here in the Pacific Northwest, these versatile trees are already starting to bud. That is an optimistic thought as the darkness closes in around us.

Hazelnut blooms in January.

Copyright © 2020 Tournesol Adventures. All rights reserved.

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