It might be a bit too late to post this, green walnuts in their proper stage of tender vulnerability are probably pretty hard to come by now, but I urge you to join me in this experiment or at the very least bookmark this for next year. I don't remember how I stumbled onto a recipe for Nocino, but once I did I was intrigued. I scoured the web for everything even remotely having to do with Green Walnuts, which incidentally are not an exotic breed or a rare variety, but simply regular walnuts picked before they mature, just before they start to develop their hard shell. I have never seen them in stores or markets so I went on a hunt, finally finding Local Harvest, a site that allows small farms across the US to sell their products in one spot without the extra overhead of hosting a website and trying to generate traffic to it. Kind of genius actually. One of the farms associated with them is Clary Ridge Ranch, and that's where I ordered from. They came super fast, lovingly packaged with an ice pack and a few walnut branches:
After doing some research I learned that June 24, also known as St. John's Day, is the day when people in Calabria and throughout Italy collect walnuts, sometimes going as late as Bastille Day (July 14th), but the general tradition specifies that the green walnuts must be picked on this day to make the best liquor.
I unpacked the box, snapped a few shots, counted out the walnuts and got to work. I have a double batch of Nocino going as well as a batch of Vin de Noix. They won't be ready to drink until sometime around Christmas, but sharing with you then what I'm making now seems mean and braggy. I made Nocino exactly as it's listed here, changing nothing except doubling the recipe, and quite frankly, the infamous David Lebovitz has never steered me wrong with a recipe. The Vin de Noix on the other hand, I couldn't help but mess with. I merged several recipes that I found, so what I'm sharing with you here is sort of my own take on it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping I didn't mess anything up.
One thing that everyone agreed on was that you absolutely must wear gloves and cover your entire work area while you're cutting up the walnuts. They may look innocent and green, but given a little time their juice turns dark brown and stains everything that hasn't been wiped down in time. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Here it is on Day 1, and I'll be occasionally posting updates on how it's doing:
Vin de Noix
50 green walnuts, rinsed and quartered
750 mL bottle of brandy, or vodka. The cheap stuff will do just fine.
5 liters red wine, this is a "commoner" recipe, so a nice but cheap red will do.
1 kg sugar (2 pounds)
12 walnut leaves, add these if you have them, but I have a feeling they're non-essential
Peel of 1 lemon, make sure to get just the yellow part, the white pith is bitter.
6 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, split
1. Stir together all of the ingredients in a 5 gallon glass jar with a tight fitting lid. You want it to be non-reactive because the alcohol could eat away or react badly with metals or plastic. Store in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking occasionally. Don't forget to put a label on the jar with the date so that you know when to check it for readiness.
2. Strain through a few layers of cheesecloth into a bowl or another large container. Taste, and adjust the sugar if you want it sweeter. Bottle and store in a cool dark place letting the flavors mellow and develop for a month or three. It should be ready to drink/share around the holidays.
I'll be keeping my fingers crossed hoping that everything comes out good. I've been sniffing both jars and so far the smells are promising.