June 24 marks the feast of John the Baptist, and also the day when “traditional-minded Europeans head into their local walnut orchards, filling baskets and bags with unripe nuts in order to make nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, or its French cousin vin de noix.”
In California, Anita, of the blog Married … with Dinner, does the same. But this year, after struggling to find a reliable supply of green walnuts, Anita and her husband are picking their own. “The idea of making liqueur with nuts we’d plucked ourselves from local trees was simply too attractive to pass up,” she says.
But the intrepid pair surprise the veteran walnut farmer, who doesn’t have many customers looking for green walnuts. “‘You do know they’re incredibly bitter?’ he asked.”
I explained about splitting the nuts and soaking them in alcohol for most of the summer, then setting aside the strained, sweetened infusion until Christmastime. I marveled that a walnut farmer — and one with Italian in-laws, at that — had never tasted what I’d always assumed was a relatively common homebrew. Not only had he never made it, he’d never even heard of it. Chuckling, he quipped: ‘Sounds like a waste of a good bottle of vodka,’ and winked.
But the farmer refuses to take much money from the pair, asking for the nocino recipe instead, and Anita heads home to let the prepared walnuts steep for 40 days and nights—a process she documented with incredible photos. They’ll be bottled and waiting come Christmas.