Growing nuts a long-term project for this Cummington farm

  • A cracked hazelnut at the Nutwood farm in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A cluster of immature hazelnuts on a tree at Nutwood Farm in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A food processor for cocoa used for processing the hazelnuts into a spread at the Nutwood Farm in Cummington. Sampling the nut butter on crackers is Rohan feeding Kalyan with Seva watching. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hazelnuts in the shell at Nutwood Farm in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kalyan and Seva Water with their son, Rohan, in front of a row of hazelnut trees at Nutwood Farm in Cummington. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Homemade hazelnut butter. FOR THE RECORDER/TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder
Published: 9/21/2021 2:06:54 PM

Seva and Kalyan Water are practical idealists. The two live with their toddler son, Rohan, at Nutwood Farm in Cummington.

The 7-acre tract looked a bit wild — one might even say scruffy — when I visited recently. The scruffiness is intentional. The Waters purchased a derelict former Christmas tree farm in 2015 and began planting nut trees while preserving as much of the landscape as possible.

Of nut farming, Seva Water said, “No one else was really doing it around here. We were interested in trees and perennial crops. We found this piece of land that’s not prime agricultural land. We’re in the hills. There are a lot of things that make sense about nuts and hills.”

The two are firm believers in regenerative agriculture — that is, agricultural practices that can help soil regain nutrients that have been lost because of over-farming, erosion and climate change.

With nuts, Kalyan Water explained, “you can get established on poor-quality land and make it better.”

Nut farming is a long-term project for the couple because most nut trees take years to bear fruit. They planted steadily for their first four years on the farm. Their first crop came in last year. Hazelnuts, which grow on a bush rather than a tree, showed up relatively quickly.

The pair noted that nut trees are good for soil and prevent erosion. The hazelnut bushes they showed photographer Paul Franz and me are perennial crops that need no tillage once they are established. Kalyan Water cited reports of hazelnut plants in Europe that have lasted 900 years.

Hazelnuts are a healthy food, the Waters told us, containing lots of healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants. Their oil is great for eating and cooking. Their shells can help improve the land when heated into biochar and added to the soil, Kalyan Water said. “They are the densest form of carbon you can grow.”

The Waters have created a small, manually operated machine to remove the husks from their hazelnuts. They then use a screen to separate the nuts by size. They crack the hazelnuts with a hammer to remove the shells.

In addition to hazelnuts, the Waters are experimenting with a variety of nut trees that have yet to bear fruit. These include chestnuts, Persian walnuts, hardy pecans, heartnuts (Japanese walnuts) and butternuts.

While they wait for their trees to produce nuts, the two keep busy. They both have side jobs to help with expenses. They live simply. Solar panels and energy storage keep them off the grid.

An experienced carpenter, Kalyan Waters is currently building a house that will include underground hot-water storage and a greenhouse for producing foodstuffs that don’t usually grow in our cold climate. Meanwhile, the small family makes its home in an attractive yurt and spends a lot of time outdoors.

Their hazelnuts are ready to be picked now. The Waters invite friends, interns and neighbors to help with the harvest, which should go relatively quickly.

As they celebrate these early years’ mild harvests and await the bounty of future seasons, the two are proud of the work they are doing. They say they hope their example will inspire others to embark on similar projects on a larger scale.

“Instead of losing soil every year, we’re building it every year. We (as a society) need broad-acre application of (farming like this),” said Kalyan Water.

Meanwhile, he noted proudly, they are “beginning to make a difference.”

I asked Seva Water what she likes to make with the hazelnuts she has on hand. With the help of little Rohan, she served Paul and me hazelnut butter she had made in a portable chocolate refiner the two have purchased.

She also makes a version of the butter with cacao nibs or powder, a more natural, healthier version of a popular commercial chocolate-hazelnut spread.

For the straight hazelnut butter, the Waters grind up about a pound of shelled, unroasted hazelnuts with a half teaspoon of salt. They end up with about 12 ounces of butter.

For the cacao version, they include a quarter cup of cacao per cup of nuts, along with two to three tablespoons of sugar. (The sugar may be varied to taste.)

The Waters explained that hazelnut butter may be made in a food processor but can take a long time. It can also overheat and damage the food processor if one doesn’t take long breaks between pulses.

The butter they served was lovely and thick, with a strong nut flavor.

My friend, Peter, recently gave me a pound of hazelnuts, so I decided to try to make hazelnut butter at home with my heavy-duty blender. My version was a bit more sinful than the healthy version from Nutwood Farm.

I roasted my nuts to add even more flavor. The Waters prefer not to roast their nuts. Roasted nuts can go rancid, they informed me, but raw nuts last a long time without refrigeration. I decided that extra flavor outweighed shelf life for me.

I also added a little bit of oil to make the nuts liquify more quickly. I actually found hazelnut oil in my pantry (a gift from the artisan-oil company La Tourangelle) so I used that, but any neutral oil (e.g., vegetable, canola) would do.

For added flavor and to add a New England touch, I added a little maple syrup.

Hazelnut Butter

Ingredients:

2 cups blanched hazelnuts

1 tablespoon hazelnut oil or a neutral oil

Salt to taste (start with ½ teaspoon)

1 tablespoon maple syrup or syrup to taste

Begin by toasting the hazelnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and place the nuts in a single layer in a relatively flat pan with sides (a cast iron skillet works nicely). Roast them until they darken slightly and begin to smell delicious, about 15 minutes.

Let the nuts cool. Pop them into a powerful blender or food processor, and pour in the oil. Pulse. Rest for a few seconds; then pulse again. After the first few pulses, you may run the machine on low, but make sure you take frequent breaks so it doesn’t overheat.

When the nuts are almost softened, stir in the salt and the maple syrup. Blend briefly, and taste to see whether you need to add anything else. Serve with crackers, vegetables or cookies — or straight off the spoon! Store your butter in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.




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