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The filbert is the nut of the cultivated hazel (Corylus maxima), which was introduced to Britain from southeastern Europe several centuries ago. The generally accepted derivation of its name is that it comes from St Philibert (died 684), a Frankish abbot whose feast day, August 22, falls at around the time when hazel nuts are gathered. An alternative suggestion, though, based on earlier spellings such as filberd, is that it is a corruption of ‘full beard’, a reference to the long husk which almost completely covers the nut. This husk distinguishes the filbert from the wild hazel of the hedgerows (C. avellana), whose nut, the cobnut, is seated in a much shorter green cup. The distinction has not always been applied linguistically, however. An improved variety of filbert developed by a certain Mr Lambert of Goudhurst in 1830 was christened the Kentish Cob; this name has now virtually cornered the market for all varieties of cultivated hazel nut, and filbert, once so common (it was used as an epithet for perfectly formed fingernails, and even featured in a music-hall song, ‘Gilbert the filbert, the colonel of the nuts’) is now little more than a memory.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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