Before moving to the Pacific Northwest I had never heard a hazelnut called a “filbert”, nor was I all that familiar with hazelnuts. I’d probably had them on fancy Pepperidge farm cookies and maybe in a bowl of mixed nuts every now and again, but they weren’t quite a thing in the late 1990s. Nutella had yet to blow up and Starbucks wasn’t what it is now. So when the local parks department advertised the Annual Filbert Festival I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. All I knew is that it was free and would occupy the kids for half a day. Now twenty years’ later I can’t tell you much about what we did, but I became keenly aware that I was now living in filbert country. Something like 80 or 90% of the American filbert crop is grown within a hundred miles of my home, and they show up everywhere on local menus. Usually on desserts: hazelnut shakes, chocolate-covered hazelnuts, hazelnut-crusted cheesecakes, but just as often on top of salmon fillets or pork chops. There’s even a local pig rancher that sells hazelnut-finished pork, which is a transformative experience.
Last summer I came across my copy A Treasury of Prize Winning Filbert Recipes (1973) at a used bookstore on the Oregon Coast. It was in pristine condition and only two and a half dollars so I picked it up without paying much attention to the contents. It’s a slim paperback with hand-lettered calligraphy and amateurish pre-Photoshop cover art: a treasure chest filled with filberts with a collage of photographed dishes over top. There’s an image of what appears to be hazelnut-crusted salmon and what is either cookies or oysters. The contents are professionally typeset and smattered with fuzzy black and white images.
But this isn’t an amateur affair. A Treasure of Prize Winning Filbert Recipe is an official publication of the Oregon Filbert Commission, now the Oregon Hazelnut Commission, an official arm of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Chartered by the legislature and everything – these guys are the real deal. The recipe collection itself was compiled by the Auxiliary of the Nut Growers Society of Oregon and Washington (read: farmer’s wives), who appear to have held an annual competition It contains nearly two hundred recipes submitted by Pacific Northwest Homemakers, with the literal “prize winners” called out in the text.
The bulk of the recipes are for hazelnut cookies, with a dozen different sub-chapters for different cookie types (i.e. roll cookies, bar cookies, drop cookies, etc.) Many of them are variants on traditional cookies: chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts, hazelnut sandies, you get the idea. With as often as I bake cookies it would take me a lifetime to get through them all, but I have a short list of three or four that I hope to get to this winter. But the fun part of the cookbook are the savory dishes. The Salads and Main Dishes chapter is criminally short, and weighted well in favor of salads. As with the cookie chapters, some are simple recipe variants (e.g. Waldorf Salad with Hazelnuts), but there are a dozen solid Main Dish recipes. They’re not exactly pushing the envelope of culinary innovation, but they thoughtfully play to the strengths of the hazelnut.
Fruit ‘N Filbert Pork Chops is easily my favorite recipe from A Treasury of Prize Winning Filbert Recipes, transforming a usually bland and dry pork loin into a delicious weeknight meal. The fruit is arguably central to the flavor profile, but the recipe still showcases the toasty bitterness of roasted hazelnuts. It’s also deliciously old school, centered around a giant hunk of protein but with a sticky sweet sensibility that’s long since gone out of vogue. The ingredient list is a love letter to the Pacific Northwest, and perfectly encapsulates both the time and place that A Treasury of Prize Winning Filbert Recipes comes from.
Preparation is straightforward but benefits from advance planning. The filberts can be toasted several days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container, which will allow you to have Fruit ‘N Filbert Pork Chops on the table in about an hour. Chop the onions and apples while you’re searing the pork loin to optimize things further. The original recipe calls for canned figs, which I haven’t seen on store shelves in decades. In the recipe below I’ve substituted fig preserves, which are available at most American grocery stores: a half cup of dried figs reconstituted in a quarter cup of boiling water would work as well. Canned plums might work in a pinch.
My family is accustomed to playing guinea pig for my vintage recipes, which can be hit or miss, but Fruit ‘N Filbert Pork Chops were an unqualified smash hit. I knew that the meat would be popular, but I was surprised to see every family member go back for more fruit. They even ate the leftover fruit and rice on its own the next day. And I can’t say that I blame them: the fruit ‘sauce’ is a happy balance of sweet and savory – perhaps a little bit too sweet to eat on its own, but perfect cut with rice or protein. The filberts in the sauce lose a little bit of their crunch but lend some richness and fat to complement the lean protein. And, unlike most recipes I encounter from the 1970s, the pork isn’t cooked into oblivion. After an hour of cooking the center of the thickest pork loin was just barely above the USDA-recommended 145º F, about as juicy and tender as pork loin is ever going to get.
There’s an awful lot going on in this dish, so keep the sides simple. Rice, barely, or couscous are perfectly suited to soak up the watery sauce. I served a simple coconut rice – basmati steamed with coconut milk and broth – which was bland on its own but seemed to complement the fruit sauce perfectly. For the obligatory green veggie I served steamed sweet peas, and would also recommend fresh green beans or lightly steamed broccoli. Fresh tomatoes might also be an option in late summer, but avoid bitter greens or carrots.
A Treasury of Prize Winning Filbert Recipes is generally available, used, on Amazon or elsewhere. Enjoy!
- 2-3 lbs pork loin roast
- freshly ground black pepper
- neutral cooking oil
- 1 cup chopped sweet onion
- 3 tart green apples (peeled and coarsely chopped)
- 1 cup dried apricots (coarsely chopped)
- ¾ cup fig preserves
- ¾ cup toasted filberts (coarsely chopped)
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp chicken bouillon
- ½ cup hot water
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- Preheat the oven to 375º F.
- Slice pork loin roast into six steaks, about an inch or two thick. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, add pork steaks and sear for two minutes per side until nicely browned, working in batches if necessary.
- the mixture should resemble a savory pie filling.
- Press about half of the mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Lay the pork chops on top, then cover with the remaining fruit mixture.
- Whisk together chicken bouillon, hot water, and white wine. Drizzle over the top. Cover and bake for 40 minutes.
- Whisk together olive oil and soy sauce as best as you can. Push any fruit mixture off the top of the pork chops and baste with the oil-soy sauce mixture. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes more.
- Baste again and cook until pork loin reaches an internal temperature of 145º F, about 10-15 minutes more. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
To toast hazelnuts heat in a 275º F oven in a large roasting pan for 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to promote even browning.