Green Walnuts

© 2011 Joshua Stark

When we bought our first (and current) home on 1/10th of an acre, we were "blessed" with three very large trees:  A 70 foot incense cedar, an 80 foot redwood, and a 65-foot English walnut.  Soon, then, we were also blessed with a large number of Eastern grey and fox squirrels running through said walnut, testing and testing, and dropping far more walnuts than they ate or bit.

In my initial frustration, I thought:  Why not google "green walnut recipes" and see what happens?

I did.

And my life is forever changed.

Okay, it's not that dramatic - I suffered no spiritual shift.  But yeah, my life is changed, so that every year in late spring I'm walking around my yard picking up green walnuts, and heading to the store for salt, spices, good vinegar and, shall we say, "inexpensive" spirits - vodka and brandy. 
Ahh, store-brand...

Now, three years in, I have a small but significant repertoire of green walnut concoctions, mostly for cookin', but also for drinkin' and condimentin'.

If you are interested in cooking with green walnuts, I hope you find these recipes helpful.  I've also included some notes at the bottom, tips on working with green walnuts.

Here, now, are my favorites, broken into two categories, Vinegar Concoctions and Alcohol Concoctions:



1.  SIMPLE GREEN WALNUT KETCHUP (from this site, w/ modifications):
Ketchups (or katsups, or catsups, I don't care) have an interesting history.  Originally from the Chinese ki-tchiap (meaning "carp juice"), ketchups became popular in the U.K. probably as a great way to disguise old food.  It also provided a way to extend the life of foods that would have otherwise been thrown out, & I'm convinced that one of these wound up being green walnuts.

This first recipe was my first attempt at using green walnuts, and we were very happy with the result.  Interestingly, at the same time I found these recipes online, I stumbled upon "walnut ketchup" in one of my favorite cookbooks:  Angus Cameron & Judith Jones' L.L. Bean Game & Fish Cookbook.  The ketchup makes a fine substitute for Worcestershire sauce in our household, and one day I'd like to make a batch with anchovy paste to get it even closer.

24 green walnuts
1 cup salt-to 5 cups water brine
2 quarts vinegar
2 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground mace
12 garlic cloves
1 "finger" of horseradish (a piece of horseradish about the size of my finger, 3-4 inches... I don't know how long your finger is)

Variations:  Other recipes include allspice, nutmeg and/or peppercorns.  I'm sure you can experiment.

Poke the walnuts, then place them in the brine for nine days or so, shaking every day or so (use a glass or ceramic bowl for this, not metal).
Remove the walnuts, crush them, pour out the brine, pour in the vinegar, and put the walnuts in the vinegar for about a week, stirring every day or so.

Strain out the liquid into a pan (put the walnut pieces in another bowl to make chutney!), add the remaining ingredients, and boil for 15-20 minutes.  If you used good vinegar, you'll get a pungent smell in the house; if you used cheap vinegar, you may want to repaint the kitchen, and you will get the distinct feeling that you no longer have nose hairs.

Strain this concoction and place in sterile canning jars.

Use in place of Worcestershire sauce - in marinades, bbq sauces, or as a condiment.


2. GREEN WALNUT CHUTNEY (from 18th Century Cuisine, with modifications):

I was very happy with the results of this chutney.  Here, especially, the use of a good vinegar really shows!

Solids from the ketchup-making process above
2-5 apples or pears cut into chunks
1/2 - 1 Cup raisins (some chopped, some whole)
1-3 Tb. fresh grated ginger
2 tsp. or so of mustard seed
1 cayenne pepper, broken open
maybe 1/4 Cup of brown sugar
Cider vinegar to cover

Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and simmer 10-15 to perhaps 30 minutes.  Obviously, this isn't an exact science.  You are putting together a bunch of extremely powerful ingredients.  If you've never had chutney, you are looking for a taste that is nearly overpowering, pungent, sweet and spicy. 

Eat it with cheese (sharp cheddar works for me), bread, fruit, or even as a topping to a strong meat.



Pickled walnuts are more common in England, as are all the vinegar-based walnut recipes (though I've a sneaking suspicion that green walnuts factor into a number of "natural flavor" categories in a variety of products in the U.S.).  Online, there are a number of recipes that look great, and with varying methods for pickling.  I've taken the basic process from the Cottage Smallholder, who has an amazing array of recipes, and who I highly recommend for pickled walnut advice and other great things.

There are myriad recipes for pickled walnuts, with folks adding tarragon, rosemary, thyme, ginger, cinnamon... just, maybe not all at the same time. 

Basic Ingredients (ginger-cinnamon pickled walnuts)
24 green walnuts
1-cup-salt-to-5-cups-water brine
1.5 liters (a little over 6 1/3 cups) good vinegar (some use malt, I use apple cider)
Typical standards:
Peppercorns (2-3 tbsp.)
Allspice berries (2-4 tbsp.)
Cloves (5-10)
Mace (1-1 1/2 tsp.)
Garlic (1-3 cloves)
Dark molasses (3-10 tbsp.)

For the ginger pickle: 
3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2-4 cinnamon sticks per jar (or 1-2 tsp. cinnamon per jar)

Brine the walnuts for 9 to 14 days (a common method is to replace the brine once halfway through)

Remove the walnuts from the brine, rinse them, place them on a tray, and let them dry out and blacken in a warm, dry place (hopefully, in the Sun) for 2-4 days.

Once blackened, place walnuts in sterilised (in honour of the English) jars with space to cover them in the pickle.

Add the pickling ingredients to a pot and bring to a low simmer, simmering for about an hour.  Then, pour the hot pickling solution over the walnuts, seal, and set for 3 weeks to 3 months.


One can make stews with them, or eat them as a side dish with just about anything, but especially cheeses and strong meats.



When I first learned about green walnut liqueurs, I became very excited.  I'd never made any cordial before, since my occasional nip usually involves something 'straight'.  However, I was excited to use green walnuts in a way other than with vinegar and salt, just to have a chance to mix up my repertoire.

These liqueurs are easy to make, but like all preserved foods, they take a bit of time.  Thankfully, it's not the kind of time that involves you doing anything, and the times when you have tasks you get to play with sweet-smelling ingredients.



My friend Kari of the Erratic Sewer and Crafter gave me my first recipe, a nocino from one Nonna Emilia.  I followed it faithfully, and in about a year I cracked open a slightly bitter, very sweet and powerful concoction.  Here is the recipe, which can also be found at this site.

25 green walnuts, about the size of apricots
3 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
Zest from 1 lemon
1.25 liter vodka (the recipe called for 100 proof, but I use the typical 80 proof... I'm sure 100 proof will be much better, and when I can afford that, I'll try it)
3 cups of sugar
.25 liter of cheap sparkling wine

Soak the walnuts overnight in fresh water
Quarter them and put them in a jar with all ingredients in a sunny place for 40 days to 2 months.  Shake regularly.
After waiting, strain out the solids (save them!) and bottle the liquid, then don't touch it for at least 9 months.

Straining the nocino... don't lose those solids!
That's it!  What you have just made is a wonderful, complex liqueur.

Drink it occasionally.  A knowledgeable friend of mine says it is a digestif - he also then explained to me that a digestif is for after dinner.

For me (not much of a drinker), nocino is a great ingredient in sauces and marinades.  It is sweet, a tad bitter, and has a number of marinade ingredients one would already use.  I love cooking it down with onions and garlic and some blackberry-infused vinegar, adding some flour and making a gravy for game meat.



After a successful year with the vodka nocino above, I decided to "make up" a brandy version.  I read that these varieties, typically French and therefore called 'vin de noix' or 'wine of the nut', use red wine instead of sparkling wine.  The recipe below makes a drink with more bite than the vodka version, to me - and is a bit less sweet and a bit thicker.  I prefer it to the vodka nocino (I much prefer brandy to vodka in general, too), but anecdotally, I'm in the minority.

1 liter of brandy
1/4 liter of red wine
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
12 quartered walnuts

Follow the same directions for the nocino della Emilia.

Just like the nocino della Emilia, vin de noix can make good sauces and marinades.  I use it for a barbecue sauce by cooking it down 1/4 cup of it with 1/4 cup of walnut ketchup, 1/4 cup of molasses, and generous portions of garlic and onions, some salt, black pepper, brown sugar, thyme, basil, paprika and sage.  Cook it down for about 30 minutes and baste it over spareribs.



At the end of the directions for Nonna Emilia's nocino there was a recipe - an afterthought, really - for a "second, less potent liqueur".  I tried it, and found it to be an amazing cordial.  It is lighter in color and taste, very sweet, and very accessible.  The first time I broke it out, at a Christmas party, it was a huge hit.  If you are worried that the nocino is going to be too 'weird', it is still worth making if only for getting this drink, what my friend Hank named "Thrifty Italian", after the description of it's origins.

Solids from the strained nocino
2 cups of vodka (of course, experiment here)
The rest of that cheap sparkling wine you bought for the nocino recipe
1 cup of sugar

Combine the ingredients, and let them sit out on a windowsill for a couple of months, shaking every so often.   Then, drink.  It is very good!

Really, just drink it.  It is very good!

Thrifty Italian:  Isn't that a beautiful color?



-Poke the walnuts before soaking them for two reasons:  First, you want to make sure they haven't yet formed a shell (if they have, you are too late; come back next year); second, poking them helps get the water/brine/alcohol into the fruit.

-Don't let the green walnut and the clear liquid that oozes from it fool you; they will turn anything a walnut-brown in color.  Use gloves if you don't want to look like you got a really bad henna job, and for goodness' sakes, don't work with them in your nice clothes!

-Green walnuts impart a distinctive color to whatever their juices are exposed.  That color is brown.  Everything you make here will be brown in color.  Got it? 

-The best looking walnuts are the ones that were removed from the tree, not the ones that fell off of their own accord.  That said, since only the pickled walnuts bear any resemblance to the original, who cares what the walnuts in the other recipes look like?

-Like anything else in cooking, sadly, better ingredients make better end products.  If you don't want your patrons' nasal passages burned clean, for example, use the more expensive vinegar.  To put it another way, if you want all your hard work to be appreciated (or to at least end up with something good), put a bit more money down on the front-end; you will not be disappointed.

-The last rule does not apply to vodka.  If you are picky about vodka, just filter it.

From the left: Brandy nocino, nocino della Nonna Emilia, & brining walnuts for a vinegar recipe