Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Walnut Liqueur

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in line at our outstanding grocery store, West Berkeley Bowl, paying for my stuff. "Nosy-parker" that I am, I glanced back at the stuff the man in line behind me was piling up onto the counter; bottle after bottle of French wine. I am frequently asked at the check-out counter if I am planning a big party, or if I am a caterer. Naw, we just enjoy wine with our dinner, and we HATE to run low on any varietals; Joel starts getting nervous when he does inventory and finds that there's only one bottle left in a certain category. So I took great pleasure in seeing someone else buy a nice healthy supply, and naturally, when I noticed that all the bottles consisted of only two different labels, I had a feeling there might be a hot wine tip in the offing! I made inquiries; yes, they were pretty good, and a decent price ($8.99 a bottle) but, he said "we will be using them to make walnut liqueur, so the taste is not so important."

Wow. "You're making Vin de Noix?" I said with surprise and pleasure. Yes, friends, kismet had placed me in line right next to one of the few other people in town likely to be making walnut liqueur on the feast day of Jean Baptiste, and the Syrah and the accent clued me in that he was making the French Vin de Noix, rather than the Italian Nocino, or Croatian Orahovica. Because, of course, I make walnut liqueur in all three styles!

Well, you can imagine he was equally surprised that I understood right away what he was talking about. I asked if he was planning on picking the walnuts in Berkeley (no, they were going to Brentwood) and we discussed the fact that Brentwood walnuts should be ready earlier than those in Berkeley; I like to pick my Berkeley nuts on the fourth of July. And suddenly it came to me: this man probably had a family recipe, and perhaps he would share it!

Yes, and yes, to both questions; he was using a recette from his Tante. He took down my e-mail address in his iphone, and followed up with his recipes just days later, bless his heart.

A little background: Most European countries make some sort of liqueur out of green (English) walnuts; it is traditional to pick them on June 24th, which is the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Central Valley walnuts are ready a little earlier, and Berkeley walnuts a little later. The walnuts should be fully formed, but soft enough to pierce with a needle. When cut open, they are green all the way through, but with fully-formed, liquid-filled kernels. Interestingly, one uses the whole nut, outer skin and all. They have an intriguing, aromatic aroma.

The Neapolitan recipe shared with me by an Italian acquaintance, Sebastiano Scarampi, included this description on picking the walnuts: "Have young virgins pick, preferably in the morning of June 24th while still slightly covered by dew, as the dew of that particular night is considered magical and with beneficial medicinal powers."

Hmmm. Not only does Johanna prefer to sleep in, but it seems like the morning dew of Berkeley would NOT contain beneficial medicinal powers, so I think I will continue to pick mine during regular daylight hours the weekend of the fourth of July, from the top of an overturned bucket, and then wash them well.....

Vin de Noix

Recipes from Frederic Thouvenin

A la Jean-Claude Vallier

32 noix
1 L d’eau de vie
1 gousse de vanille ou 1/4 de citron

Macérer 2 mois
5 L de vin + 1 kg de sucre
remuer tous les matins pendant 10 jours
mettre en bouteilles

A la Christine

25 noix coupées en 4
1 L d’eau de vie
Mélanger pendant 8 jours
3 L de vin rouge
2 L de vin blanc
1 kg 1/2 de sucre
1 bâton de vanille
Ecorces de 6 oranges passées au four pendant 10min
Ajouter tout cela (éventuellement en enlevant les noix)
Laisser macérer pendant 45 jours.

A la Jean-Claude Vallier

32 Nuts
1 Liter of eau de vie, brandy, marc or vodka
1 vanilla bean or 1 / 4 lemon

Macerate 2 months
5 L of wine + 1 kg sugar
stir every morning for 10 days
to bottle

A la Christine

25 nuts cut into 4
1 L of eau de vie, brandy, marc or vodka
Let mix stand for 8 days

3 L of red wine
2 liters white wine
1 kg 1 / 2 sugar
1 vanilla bean
Peels of 6 oranges dried in the oven for 10min
Add all this, and let macerate for 45 days.

1. Pick the walnuts in late June when the walnuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Place all of the ingredients in an 8 quart (8 liter) non-reactive container with a lid. of glass or ceramic. Store in a cool dark place for 6 to 8 weeks shaking occasionally.

2. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl. Taste, and adjust the sugar if you want the drink to be sweeter. Bottle and store in a cool dark place until the cold weather. Some people store for 3 to 6 months before drinking, to allow the flavors to balance.


This recipe was shared with me by the Contessa Francesca Cinelli Stratton of the Tenuta Spannocchia

1 liter wine - red or white
20 green walnuts, quartered
1 - peel of lemon
8 - cloves
2 cm cinnamon stick
1 small spoon semi di carvi (caraway seeds)
1 cima (top of) di achillea mille foglie (common yarrow)

Put all together for 3 months in the sun.

Filter, and for every liter of liquid add 300-350 gr. alcool puro, and 300 gr of zucchero.

Christine's notes: This Nocino recipe really needs to mellow for at least 6 months before drinking, and improves with age.

(Croatian Walnut Liqueur)
This recipe comes from Jack Mariani, of the Mariani Nut Company in Winters, CA, who got it from his grandmother, Lukra Mariani.

8 whole unripe walnuts
1 quart vodka
4 lemon leaves
4  orange leaves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Wash and grind the whole walnuts, including the hulls.  Combine with the remaining ingredients in a glass or ceramic jar with a tightly fitting lid.  Let stand in the sun for 40 days and nights.  Strain, then decant into bottles.  This liqueur is good right away, but improves and mellows with age.

Notes on how to find walnuts: If you live in Berkeley, there are trees growing all over town; the squirrels are very good horticulturalists. If you spot one, ask if you can pick some in exchange for some liqueur! If you don't have easy access to them, many walnut growers in the Central Valley will pick and ship them to you on the appropriate day for super cheap.  As described above, in Europe you would pick the walnuts on June 24th, in hot climates like California's Central Valley, a little earlier.  In cool climates like the Bay Area, a little later.