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Nocino is a dark, spicy liquor made with unripe walnuts, green skin and all. I decided to give it a try as the first
experiment featured in this blog due to the simplicity of the procedure and the almost magical rituals involved in making it. There are so many recipes and variations across international borders, but one thing is for sure, it is an ancient liquor bestowed with many virtues.
Here in Italy it is offered after dinner in small glasses that are supposed to be sipped slowly and it is said to improve digestion even after the heartiest of meals. I have sampled dozens of nocinos, all homemade and all good..
I looked up the internet and my mother and law’s cookbooks for recipes and found countless variations. There was nothing else to do but to give them a try!
So June came around (alright I’m a few weeks behind recounting) and walnut trees everywhere were laden with green globes redolent with a characteristic bitter resinous aroma. Just lightly touch one of the unripe fruits and your hand will smell with the scent for some time. Tradition dictates that the unripe fruits be harvested on the
night of San Giovanni (St. John) to make the most of the essential oils locked in it. Some say in the morning after all traces of dew have evapourated, others at midnight when the green skins of the young fruits are chilled. Practicality requires that the blemish free green walnuts be ripe enough to have the highest concentration of aromatic essential oils and young enough that a needle could pierce them.
On the appointed day we went for a walk with the kids in walnut woods in the late afternoon and so convenience dictated when we did our harvesting. The low hanging branches were generous enough and we collected enough to make a few jars of liquor.
At home we already had clean jars, spices and recipes ready for the initial assembly of this ancient potion that derives some of its allure from the ritualistic steps one has to undertake while putting it together.
Here’s how i did it:
Count about 10-14 walnuts per liter of alcohol, 1 liter 95% alcohol, A couple of inches of lush vanilla pod, a bit of nutmeg, a few cloves, lemon rind shavings and a curly section of cinnamon..Sugar and water will be added after a couple of months..
First the fruits neede to be washed and lightly dried. And now the fun part (for me): wearing gloves to avoid stains that DO NOT come off, and using a cleaver or heavy knife, quarter the walnuts on a clean cutting board. The sound of the knife hitting the wooden board and the brief resistance that the meaty unripe walnuts put on before yealding to the blade have a rather cathartic quality. One after another you work your way through the small cache, feeling you are conquering your way through it.
You should then lovingly put the walnuts in a very clean jar with an airtight lid (alright you need to sterilize it, the worst part for me), toss in the spices with a graceful flick of your wrist (imagine to be samantha the witch or hermione granger while doing this!) and finally, pour in the whole bottle of alcohol. Close the lid, give it a good shake and let sit on a sun drenched windowsill for as little as 40 days or as long as 2 months.
Quarter the fruits just like in the first recipe, add same spices and 750 ml of white wine. Let sit in the sun. It differs from the first recipe in that the 95% alcohol is added the concotion is filtered at the end of the two months period.
I think my jars will rest for as long as the summer days will allow.
At this point I only have to remember to check every 3-4 days and give them a good shake.
For now, the jar with the 95% alcohol contains a really really dark and strongly aromatic liquid that reminds me somewhat of motor oil (mmmmhhh…tasty!) while the jar with the white wine has turned amber.
After the period in the sun, I’m supposed to filter the liquids and add a sugar syrup made with boiled sugar and water, before bottling them in small dark containers and let the young liquor mature some more until Boxing day or so..Will keep you updated on how that goes..