This month's recipe comes with a free helping of guilt relief. Some chocolate spreads use palm oil, and palm oil plantations have been linked to deforestation.

I was most upset to discover it in my chocolate spread as I enjoyed having it with peanut butter on toast in the morning.

However, with autumn now well and truly here, there is a crop we can use to make some of our own.

Hazel trees are widespread in hedgerows and woodlands. Unfortunately for us their nuts are favoured by all kinds of small mammals, so chances are they’ve beaten you to it. But you can buy hazelnuts in some shops, and by making this homemade alternative to the bought variety, you’re taking a little bit of pressure off the rainforests (at least that's what I told myself).  

This is a recipe I made up at home through some trial and error. This will make a big jar full:

Ingredients

200g of hazelnuts

100g of unsweetend cocoa powder (Rainforest Alliance if possible)  

140g of sugar (I used caster, try to use British-grown where possible)

90ml of groundnut oil (this is made with peanuts so try another vegetable oil if someone in your house has an allergy) 

Method

  1. Pour the hazelnuts out in a baking tray so none are on top of each other.
  2. Toast them under the grill for about 10-15 mins or until the pale bit goes a little brown. 
  3. Blend them up in a food processor.
  4. Pour in the other ingredients and blend thoroughly until smooth.

It’s as simple as that. Have some on ice-cream for a quick and delicious pudding.

It doesn’t set like the shop-bought kind due to lack of palm oil, but tastes great and spreads pretty well. So, my chocolate spread and peanut butter on toast is back on the cards! 

Shopping for the environmentalist

Palm oil crops up in everything from French fries to toothpaste, so it's always worth checking the ingredients.

Shopping can be a real minefield when trying to be kind to the environment but some schemes like the Rainforest Alliance provide an accreditation that shows responsible sourcing. 

Hazel in nature

Hazel was a common tree chosen for coppiced woodlands because its wood is pliable and makes excellent charcoal, used by Iron Age humans to smelt iron.

Coppiced woodlands are an ancient man-made habitat used for well over a thousand years as a constant source of new wood. Coppicing involves cutting a tree at the base, encouraging lots of small stems to grow into useful-sized, fairly straight branches harvested in 5-20 year cycles.

Coppiced hazel tree in bluebell woodland by Fraser Elliot Flickr CC

Coppiced hazel tree on the right surrounded by bluebells, by Fraser Elliot Flickr CC

Now coppiced woodlands are rare and important habitats for many types of wildlife and are often managed for the nature they support more than the wood they produce. Species like the heath fritillary butterfly largely rely on these habitats to survive. If you fancy learning more, Defra has a really interesting report about managing coppiced woodland for wildlife that's worth a read. 

I visited one at Wolves Wood in Suffolk the other week. It's a magical place because the coppiced trees look like pillars holding up a ceiling made of leaves, allowing enough room and light into the woodland for a carpet of woodland plants to thrive. 

Anonymous