A few weeks ago, at the height of summer, it was hard to imagine sitting in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night sipping a simple digestivo, but that’s the time to start a new annual tradition; making Nocino.
With my mind full of canning and preserving summer’s bounty, I realized I had another crop literally right under foot.
Behind the hen house, where the chickens congregate, the ground is littered with green black walnuts. After cursing these incredibly hard peach-sized orbs for years, stepping on them or dodging them as they fall from the trees, I figured there has to be something I could do with them.
One quick internet search later- Nocino! A dark, bitter Italian liqueur made from under-ripe walnuts.
In Italy, the making of Nocino is ritualistic and taken very seriously. The walnuts are traditionally picked on June 24th, the feast of San Giovanni. Here in eastern Pennsylvania the walnuts do not seem ready until early August. The recipe I adapted ending up coming from one of my favorite dessert cookbooks; Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz. The book is out of print, but worth the search or try his excellent blog.
25 green walnuts, approximately (23 fit in my gallon jar)
2 sticks of cinnamon
peel of one orange, removed with a vegetable peeler
4 ½ cups sugar
2 750 ml bottles of vodka (no need to use the expensive stuff here)
1. Wash and dry the walnuts. Using a heavy knife cut them into quarters.
2. Add the walnut pieces, spices, orange peel and sugar to a large jar with a tight-fitting lid.
3. Pour vodka over to cover ingredients and fill jar.
4. Cover and let stand for a couple months, shaking occasionally.
5. Strain through cheesecloth and pour into clean bottles and seal tightly. Nocino will get better with age. By New Year’s Eve it should be quite potable. It will keep for several years in a cool, dry place.
Enjoy chilled as a cordial or try Mr. Lebovitz’s suggestion and serve over vanilla ice cream.
I’ll let you know how mine turns out when I strain it in September.