Green Walnut Week

Green walnut

This is the story of a French walnut tree and a trip to Georgia over 30 years ago. First Georgia. I went there with Gog Theatre and our play Birdman in the late eighties. From the moment we arrived, after a 3 day train journey on the Yerevan Express from Moscow, we were plunged into fabled Georgian feasting and singing.

Georgia 1

Gog meets the Young Rustaveli Theatre Company

Every meal was a momentous event. Even breakfast.

Georgia 2

Breakfast table

When it was time to leave and I thought I was packed (very heavy bag), my host family appeared with presents that they absolutely INSISTED I had to take with me: 2 bottles of heavenly Georgian wine, several packets of fragrant Georgian tea from the shores of the Black Sea, and a large jar of homemade Kaklis Muraba – delicious sweet pickled walnuts. Thus I brought the taste of Georgia home, and the memory of it can transport me straight back to that wonderful country and its people.

Fast forward to the Dove in 2020 and the French walnut tree. It had started life on a steep slope in the Gorges du Tarn, several years after my Georgian trip. It arrived via a friend, and I planted it on the meadow where it grew imperceptibly – until, it seems, this year. Lockdown arrived, and so had the walnut.

Walnut tree 5

Walnut catkin up close

Walnut tree 4

Young leaves. The colour reappears in the wine – see below

Two months later, its first proper nut crop started to appear

Walnut tree 2

and it hit me: the memory of the taste of Georgian Kaklis Muraba. It was June, the perfect time to pick walnuts for pickling, and it was lockdown, so I had plenty of time. I found a recipe on the internet and set to the day after Solstice. First peel your walnuts:

Pickled walnuts 1

My solstice walnuts, peeled and soaking

Pickled Walnuts 2

Still soaking 2 days later, but some colour change!

Soaking goes on for 6 days, and while I waited I kept picking walnuts. It’s the best thing to do here, I’m stealing a march on the squirrels. Here are some more walnuts steeping in vodka with lemon zest, spices and sugar to make Nocino – the Italian walnut liqueur

Nocino 3

Nocino first steps

A by product of all this activity: boiled up walnut peel to make ink

Ink the colour of the walnut chest brought to me from Pakistan by my sister many years ago

Walnut chest 3

I couldn’t stop! I started soaking leaves for walnut leaf wine

Walnut leaf wine 1

The strained liquid came out this colour. From green leaves. Going to be some wine

Walnut leaf wine 2

Still waiting for the walnuts to soak (that is how they lose their bitterness as you have to keep changing the water), so I started to delve into the the background of the walnut. First, its name, Juglans. Juglans goes back to Jovis Glans, or ‘nut of Jupiter’. It was considered to be a nut of the gods, and the Greeks had got there first with their myth of Dionysus and Carya. Dionysus fell in love with the nymph Carya, and when she died he transformed her into a walnut tree. Artemis carried the news to Carya’s father and commanded that a temple be built in her memory. Its columns, sculpted in wood in the form of young women, were called Caryatides, or nymphs of the walnut tree. The word for walnut in Greek is Karydaki. In many traditions, including indigenous American, it is seen as a sacred tree: magical, medicinal and edible. Not to mention its use as a strong, durable and beautiful timber. Pretty good going! To finish this brief summary, I’ll quote Culpepper, who says’ This is a plant of the sun. Gather it while green, before it shells.’ So I did.

Walnut tree 3

A Plant of the Sun

I just need to look at all these colours together once more, for this week has been as much about colour as taste

 

It’s also been a trip around the world, from my kitchen:

Georgia France Italy Pakistan Somerset

Postscript: I bottled the pickled walnuts yesterday: they taste AMAZING.

 

 

 

9 comments
  1. Several people have asked for the sweet pickled walnut recipe. Here it is.

    Pick green walnuts NOW (before end June and test they have no shell yet by pricking them with a cocktail stick). Weigh them, as this will be the amount of sugar you will add later.

    Wear latex gloves at all times when handling walnuts. They stain for weeks!

    Peel with vegetable peeler, and prick a few times with fork or cocktail stick.

    Cover with cold water and leave for 6 days, changing the water twice a day.

    On the sixth day, put the walnuts in a pan just covered with water, bring to the boil, boil 2 or 3 minutes, discard the water, repeat several times (in my case 7) until the walnuts are soft enough for a needle or cocktail stick to pass easily straight through them.

    Leave them in the pan with fresh cold water just covering them, and add juice of 1 lemon. Leave 1 hour. Pour off the liquid.

    Now prick them again, and put in preserving pan with their original weight in sugar and/or honey, a stick of cinnamon, a couple of cardamom seeds, half a dozen cloves and a few drops of Vanilla essence. Cover with water. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

    Bring to the boil and keep them there on a medium heat for, in my case, 1 1/2 hours, or until the syrup is syruppy and looks like it might set like jelly – up to 105 degrees. If you boil too fast the liquid will disappear. You have to keep a good eye on them and stir from time to time.

    The walnuts should now be very soft and considerably smaller.
    Pack the walnuts into sterilised jars, add the juice of half a lemon to the syrup and pour over. Seal, and store. Should keep one year.
    And eat.

    Time consuming, but if you have the time, worth it.

    • Correction to the above recipe; it seems that you add 2/3rds the weight of the walnuts in sugar, not the same weight. I’m going by rather patchy internet recipes here, so it’s trial and error, mostly. I’m no expert!

  2. jersheharvey said:

    Hi Bronwen, Thank you for this walnut pilgrimage We have a self-seeded walnut about four feet high and I am storing away some things to do with it when the first green fruits appear. Best wishes, Jeremy

  3. Maya Love said:

    Brilliant Bron – gonna get picking now!!! Thanks for the recipe. Can you give us the recipe of your walnut vodka too? That sounds lovely!!! Love, Maya. xxxx

  4. Thanks Maya, it is too late for the pickled walnuts I fear; I picked some last week and the shells were already starting to harden. But walnut vodka is ok now. the recipe is easy peasy compared with pickling:

    30 green walnuts
    2 cinnamon sticks
    5 whole cloves
    I inch vanilla bean, or some drops of vanilla essence
    Zest of one lemon cut in strips
    500g sugar (or mix of honey and sugar)
    I litre vodka (Aldi!)

    Wear gloves! Walnuts stain massively and for a long time.
    Cut walnuts in 1/4
    Put all into large lidded container
    Shake daily for 6 weeks

    Remove walnuts with slotted spoon
    Strain through cheesecloth or coffee filter
    Bottle and cork.
    Keep at least 1 yr.

    • Maya Love said:

      Brilliant! Thanks Bron. I managed to do the pickled walnuts too – tested by cutting open and there were no shells forming yet thankfully. I now have black fingers as I didn’t wear gloves as you recommended!!! Vodka next! xx

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