Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Roadside Trees of Italy : Hazel

The hazels, Corylus  are deciduous trees and large shrubs native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere.  Hazels are place in the Betulaceae, but some botanist spit them into a separate family Corylaceae.

The fruit of the hazel is the hazelnut.

Hazel have simple rounded leaves with double-serrated margins.  There flowers are produced early in spring before the leaves.  Flowers are monoeciuos.  Fruit surrounded by involucre, with a smooth shell.  

A hazel tree are coppiced every few years.  Regenerated shoots will bear more fruits.  Hazelnuts are harvested annually in mid-autumn.  The trees will drop their nuts as well as the leaves.  The nuts are swept off the ground and separated from debris.

Corylus has 14 – 18 species :
1. Corylus americana – American hazel
2. Corylus avellana – common hazel
3. Corylus heterophylla – Asian hazel
4. Corylus yunnanensis – Yunnan hazel
5. Corylus colchica – cochican filbert
6. Corylus cornuta – beaked hazel
7. Corylus maxima – filbert
8. Corylus sieboldiana – Asian beaked hazel
9. Corylus chinensis – Chinese hazel
10. Corylus colurna – Turkish hazel
11. Corylus fargesii – Farges’ hazel
12. Corylus jacquemontii – Jacquemont’s hazel
13. Corylus wangii – Wang’s hazel
14. Corylus ferox – Himalayan hazel
15. Corylus johnsonii

Several hybrids exist, and many more cultivars were grown.

The common hazelnut, Corylus avellana, is the most extensively grown hazel for its nuts.  Nut are also harvested from other species, but apart from the filbert, none is of significant commercial importance.

Apart from the edible seed, hazel is also a traditional material used for making wattle, withy fencing, baskets, and the frames of coracle boats.  A number of cultivars are grown as ornamental plants.

Hazelnuts are used in confectionary to make pralines, chocolate truffles and a wide range of hazelnut paste products : Austrian tortes, Ukrainian Kyiv cake ; French dacquoise ; Italian frangelico, Bicerin di Gianduiotto gianduja ; Georgian churchkhela and satsivi, etc.

The most famous Italian hazelnut products is none other than Ferrero Rocher.   Ferrero’s others famous hazelnut-based products includes : Nutella and Kinder Bueno.  Ferrero is based in Alba, a town in region of Piedmont, Italy.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Roadside Trees of Italy : Olive

 Olive, Olea europaea, which means ‘oil from/of Europe’, is an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region.   It is easily recognized by its silvery green oblong leaves.  Flowers are small white.  The fruit is a small drupe.

There are six natural subspecies of Olea europaea distributed over a wide range :
1. Olea europaea subsp. europaea ( Mediterranean Basin )
2. Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata ( from South Africa throughout East Africa, Arabia to South West China )
3. Olea europaea subsp. guanchica ( Canaries )
4. Olea europaea subsp. cerasiformis ( Madeira ) ( tetraploid )
5. Olea europaea subsp. maroccana ( Morocco ) ( hexaploid )
6. Olea europaea subsp. laperrinei ( Algeria, Sudan, Niger )

Though, there are thousands of cultivars of the Olea europaea.

Olive tree is very hardy.  They are drought-, disease-, and fire-resistant.  The root system is capable to regenerate even if the above-ground structure is destroyed.  It is therefore many olive trees are said to be hundred of years old.  A few were claimed to be over one or two thousand years old.

The olive tree are cultivated for olive oil, fine wood, olive leaf and the olive fruit.     Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil mechanically or chemically.  Italy alone, produced over 15% of world’s olive oil.   Olive leaves are used for its medicinal properties. 

Interestingly, olives are harvested by shaking the bough or the whole tree.  Net are wrap around the trunk to catch the fallen fruits.  Table olive are hand-picked.  Bruised fruits tend to be inferior quality.

Fresh olives are not palatable as they contain oleuropein, which make them bitter ; and phenolic compounds  They are cured with lye, brine or fresh water to make them more palatable.   Oleuropein is removed by soaking in fresh water or brine.  Most olives will be allowed to ferment before being packed in brine solution.  Olives can be flavoured by soaking in a marinade or pitted and stuffed.