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Nocino, a walnut Tuscan liqueur

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.

Nocino

Flowers

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.

Walnuts

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.

Walnuts  Nocino - Walnut liqueur

Nocino - Walnut liqueur

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.

Nocino, a walnut Tuscan liqueur
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You'll need
  • 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
How to make it
  1. 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.
  2. Leave to infuse for forty days in a warm place, shaking it from time to time.
  3. 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.
  4. Let it sit for a few more months, so that it will develop its rich male flavour.

Link Love

  • 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 TodaySuperstitious 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.

Nocino - Walnut liqueur  Walnut tree

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This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Here in Oz, I make mine 6 months out of sync, and am starting to enjoying my first batch, made at Christmas last year. It’s got a bit to go yet to mellow out, but tastes pretty much like I remember the bottle I brought back from Umbria.

  2. A family friend living in Florence prepares this each year and saves us a bottle of his wonderful Nocino for Christmas. Lovely post!

  3. Ahhh, Nocino! I make some every few years (because it makes more than my friends and I can drink) and it is sublime! The perfect end to a fall or winter’s meal, or just the thing to sip with friends in front of a fire on a stormy afternoon. It’s wonderful in hot chocolate too.

    I walk up the road to a neighbor’s house on the 24th of June and pick walnuts off of her tree. They get soaked in a good dry red wine, then fortified with brandy and sugar and bottled six weeks later. We have our first glass at the start of the holidays, during Thanksgiving week.

    Nocino is a much-loved holiday tradition in our home!

  4. Ciao Giulia!

    Just jumped over to your blog after seeing your comment on mine. Thanks for stopping by…and WOW! Your blog is so beautiful, and how crazy cool is it that you give Tuscan cooking classes??? I want to go back to Italy so badly. If I’m ever in your area, I need to go to your classes 🙂

    Baci!

  5. Madeleine Kamman’s Green Walnut Wine from “In Madeleine’s Kitchen” is excellent too. I have been making it for over 20 years. Only thing is that the Green Chartreuse is pricey and sometimes hard to find. I substituted another herbaceous liqueur last time. I will try yours next year!! I use it to finish sauces, in walnut ice cream and to sip.

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