Summer is late. Lettuce and rocket are growing slowly in the garden, shy yellow zucchini flowers play hide and seek behind the green furry leaves. Tomatoes have just leaves, not even flowers, but if I rub those leaves between my fingers I’m instantly thrown back into the lazy days of a childhood summer, when getting bored was completely admissible.
Temperatures are still mild, sudden rain showers wash the countryside. Everything is behind, green, unripe. If there’s something, though, that is perfectly on time, that is green walnuts.
We are approaching the 24th of June, the night of Saint John the Baptist. He is the patron saint of Florence. The whole town enjoys a day of celebrations and in the evening the sky is lit by the traditional fireworks. People crowd the streets and the Arno banks, searching for the best position to admire the fireworks.
If the city is buzzing with life, the countryside is quiet. The night of Saint John is also the night of the witches. It’s a mysterious night, the shortest of the year. Summer begins and something magical is bound to happen. Flowers are collected and immersed in a basin for the whole night: there must be sage, rosemary, verbena, vinca, mugwort, lavender, artemisia, mint, hawthorn, and the most important one, Saint John’s wort, with little yellow flowers. The day after you would wash your face with this miraculous water, which was said to enhance your beauty and protect you against evil spells. Witches would meet underneath walnut trees to cast their spells.
This is also the night when you would make nocino, a spicy walnut liqueur. In the past a woman would climb the walnut tree to collect the green unripe walnuts, which were then left outside for the whole night to be covered by dew. The day after walnuts were quartered, covered with alcohol, sugar and spices and left to infuse until Ognissanti, All Saint’s Day, on October the 31st.
Last year Tommaso and I attempted our first nocino. We wanted to prepare in advance Christmas presents and a bottle of ink black heady nocino seemed like the perfect gift for family and friends. We collected the green walnuts from his aunt’s tree near Florence and followed Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe for nocino, which requires just forty days of infusion.
Nocino – a Tuscan walnut liqueur
I’ve been using nocino as a digestive after cooking classes, along with a few bottles of home made limoncello, and a few weeks ago I received the best appreciation for my nocino: a man said that it tastes like an old vintage sport car, well-oiled leather and testosterone. Wouldn’t you drink such a male liqueur?
Summer is beginning, and I feel like a witch, making nocino during Solstice night and letting it sit until autumn will come, when a spiced syrupy liqueur will warm the nights along with a roaring fireplace.
- 30 whole unripe walnuts
- 1 ½ l of alcohol, 95%
- 750 g of sugar
- 2 g of ground cinnamon
- 10 whole cloves
- 400 ml of water
- Rind of 1 organic lemon
- Use gloves, otherwise you'll find your hands completely black, as green walnuts tend to stain. Quarter the green unripe walnuts and collect them in a demijohn with the other ingredients.
- Leave to infuse for forty days in a warm place, shaking it from time to time.
- After forty days filter the nocino through a cloth. Taste your nocino and if it is too alcoholic and bitter add some water. We had to add quite a bit of water to adjust our taste, but the result was outstanding according to everyone.
- Let it sit for a few more months, so that it will develop its rich male flavour.
- Nocino, an Italian Walnut Liqueur, Is Also Made in America, on The New York Time. It is made from fruit harvested in the spring and is usually ready to drink just in time for the holidays. With its aroma and flavor of baking spices, it even smells like the season.
- Liqueur de noix: Green Walnut Liqueur, by David Lebovitz. It has a dreamy, espresso-like walnut aroma that’s pretty intoxicating. Some people like to drink it by itself, after dinner as a digestive. That’s pretty high-test for me, but I frequently use it to flavor custards and ice creams. Good idea David!
- How (and Why) You Should Make Nocino Today. Superstitious souls and lusty drinkers might say that both types of summer magic infuse nocino as it ages into a dark, complex booze redolent of spice, chocolate, and coffee.
- Read Emiko’s post about nocino, she used Artusi’s recipe, too. Beautiful stories and photos, as usual.