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Making a North American version of Nocino with unripe (green) black walnuts (Juglans Nigra)

 
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It is a source of perpetual distress to me that I have not found a way to use the prodigious nut production from the black walnut trees in my local environment.  No method that I have attempted or read about for removing the husks and cracking out the nuts returns enough volume of the tiny flavorful nut meats to justify the ridiculous amount of effort and mess involved.  Sure, I can crack out a few handfuls, or enough for a batch of cookies -- but it's too much work for too little return.

I am, however, the complete king of soaking my agricultural surpluses in strong spirits to create flavorful liqueurs. So you can imagine my interest upon discovering that there's an ancient traditional liqueur called "nocino" that's made with green (unripe) English walnuts -- the point being that you harvest them early in the summer before the shells harden up, so you can just wack them into quarters with a cleaver, no husking or shelling necessary.  The entire unripe nut is used, husk and all.  That's an amount of processing I could tolerate.

Instantly I began to wonder if our more strongly flavored black walnuts could be used in the same way.  And hark! The internet says yes.  There's a distillery in Ohio that was buying unripe black walnuts for this in 2019, and  this article cites promising authorities for the notion that it's worth doing:

Faced with the prospect of bushels and bushels of black walnuts, I texted my resourceful friend Toby Cecchini, owner of Brooklyn’s Long Island Bar and author of bartending memoir, Cosmopolitan.  I asked him: “Do you know if I could make nocino out of American black walnuts, of which I have approximately six tons?”

Moments later his response came: “My father made amazing nocino out of American black walnuts every year. I even have his recipe somewhere, though you can basically figure it out yourself: Everclear, sugar, citrus peels, lots of black walnuts when they’re green in the late summer or autumn.”



Reading the article, it sounds like he worked with almost ripe nuts, and pretty much had to chop them up like cordwood.  That's not, I think, the best way; most of the recipes for using unripe English walnuts are very clear about catching them before they harden, so you can cut them in halves and quarters with a knife.  

I found plenty of other sources of people who had used unripe Juglans Nigra to make nocino, too.  Most of them, like this homestead blogger, seem to advocate the traditional practice of picking the nuts when they are so green (unripe) that they can still be quartered with a knife.



There are a lot of different recipes for adding additional spices and flavorings, so I was happy that this person got scientific and made one batch with just the nuts, spirits, and sugar.



Here's their flavor report:

The plain black walnut version created a heady black green liqueur that is simultaneously sweet and bitter, with a pallet stripping side of tannin. It’s kinda like a punch in the face by a nice old Frenchman – sweet and appealingly foreign at first then – wham!  Right in the kisser.  (Also, it stains the hell out of your shirt.)  If you’ve never tried black walnuts, the flavor is way more exotic than standard walnuts.  This liqueur captures the flavor essence perfectly.



To me that sounds like a product that's riding the line between a digestif and a bitters.  I'm fond of strong unusual flavors, so I'm definitely going to try this.  Also, much of the "regular" nocino literature emphases how much the bitter tannins mellow with very long bottle aging, allowing more nut flavor to predominate.  I couldn't find any online accounts by anybody who has been making the black walnut stuff for long enough to report on that, though -- but even a year of aging seems to help a lot:

When we first made nocino we were so disappointed with the initial result that we put the lid back on the big jar and pushed it right back into the corner! A year later we had forgotten about it and realized it was still sitting patiently in the dark. To our delight, it was incredible! So, this year we are making it again. Good things will eventually come to those who are willing to wait.



So, who do we have on Permies who has made the nocino with black walnuts?  Tips and suggestions welcome!
 
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Not quite what you are after but in England we pickle the green walnuts, you can buy them in every supermarket, personally I am not a fan as they are rather soggy and I only like crisp pickled things, but millions obviously do like them. To make them you need soft unripe nuts, since pricking them all over with a pin is recommended.
 
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dunno if i have any tips, but i've made black walnut nocino a couple of times (just missed the window for soft-shell nuts this year so i skipped it). i agree, best/easiest when the shells are still soft enough to cut with a knife. p. baudar has a recipe in his book 'the new wildcrafted cuisine' - since he's in california, he uses the california black walnut (different species), but it's all the same at that ripeness, i imagine.

regarding the labor of processing black walnuts for the nutmeats, i'm a part-owner of a company that processes nuts, and i agree that 'at scale' is the most efficient way to deal with them by far. we're trying to encourage other groups to start regional processing hubs, but there is a fair amount of infrastructure needed to really take it on...i haven't heard of anyone in OK doing it yet. if you're ever driving to or past asheville nc during nut season we could help you feel like walnut meats are more worthwhile.
 
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Aging is of top importance! The taste and aroma change *a lot*.

This is our usual schedule (in Z6/7):

- second half of June: pick and soak walnuts (English ones in our case)
- sometime between September and December, as time allows: pour our and filter, keeping just the liquid
- sometime after May next year: consider it OK
- by next Christmas: consider it good
- after 2 years or so: consider it in top form

As I understand it the black walnuts are more flavor-packed than the English ones so it would probably be a good idea to keep the soaking time at 3 months at the very max when working with a full jar.

I normally add a little sugar from the outset because once upon a time I read something about this being helpful with the extraction of flavor. But generally the time when you pour is the time when you try to get a rough idea of how much sugar will be needed considering what you're working with and what the people who it's intended for prefer.

As to the various spices (cloves, orange peel, star anise, coffee beans...), in my experience it's easier to add them after you've poured because some of them are really powerful and only a shorter soaking time is needed. But in the end it's a matter of taste.

In general it has been my experience that all bitter flavors benefit a lot from aging, being overwhelmingly brutal at first and then mellowing to a fine while still very recognizable taste. A jar with brandy and cocoa nibs has been left to soak for a year and a half (by accident mostly :) and produced a great dark-chocolatey flavor.

One more thing, you may notice that while soaking, placing the jar in sunlight - or not - makes a difference. I would guess this influences which components of the walnuts get extracted / remain noticeable. Also, if you plan to re-use your walnuts by soaking them again in fresh alcohol, for us that has been just meh.

This year I was finally able to make a good batch of nocino after 2 years of late frosts which wiped out the walnut crop. However, the nocino is all that we got from a huge walnut tree on our property - as by autumn the ripening walnuts were turned bad by a familiar insect, the walnut husk fly, that did its thing at a grand scale this year in Slovenia :(

 
greg mosser
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interesting. we have a walnut husk fly here as well (and thus walnut husk worms), but i've never seen them do any damage to the actual nut. they're frequently present in quantity in fallen ripe nuts, but they're not able to breach the shell, so the nuts themselves are unaffected. i suppose the thickness of black walnut shell may be working in our favor here!
 
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I don't really drink alcohol, but nocino has always interested me. I have practically unlimited access to walnuts, but I always miss the unripe harvest window.  

I think the walnut trees around here are all grown from seed. Seems like every tree is different - my favourite has very smooth shelled nuts that you can crack in your hands. The shells fall away from whole nuts easily, and the nuts are sweet. The tree right next to it has much harder shelled nuts, with a thick ridge where the two halves meet. Often you need a hammer to get into them, the nuts come out in little pieces with the aid of a nutpick, and have more of the walnut bitterness.

We also have husk fly and it doesn't damage the nut itself.

I'm going to try very hard to make nocino next year. I have my eye on a huge butternut tree I want to try it out on. No black walnuts around.
 
Crt Jakhel
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With the English type walnuts, at least in our locale, the husk fly will severely affect the husk and this usually also results in the kernels being stunted - undeveloped, useless for harvesting. The fly's activity also makes it easier for other nasties to mess things up.

 
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From The Spruce:https://www.thespruceeats.com/making-nocino-walnut-liqueur-2020552

"Nocino is a complex, nutty, and slightly bitter dark-brown liqueur that is usually served as an after-dinner digestivo. Nocino can also be used to “correct” a shot of espresso (espresso with a shot of liquor is called a "caffè corretto," or "corrected coffee"), poured over gelato, mixed into cocktails, or used in place of vanilla extract in baking, especially when making biscotti."

Being a locavore, I love the idea that it can be used in place of vanilla extract. Vanilla orchids are rare here in Cascadia....

A friend gave me some  seeds from a thin-shelled black walnut developed in New York state 5 years ago. They are growing well. Once they start making nuts, I will use some for Nocino, for sure, as my husband is half Italian, and enjoys making all kinds of extracts like this. Yay!
Staff note (Dan Boone) :

Clickable link: Making Nocino Walnut Liqueur via The Spruce

 
Dan Boone
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I was so proud of myself!  After making this thread in 2019 I set a reminder on my phone to go looking for immature black walnuts in June.

Then 2020 ... happened.

My alarm went off in June.  But I'm not getting out, or doing all the long-distance driving that takes me to a few more-or-less public black walnut trees that I now of.

I do have sporadic access to a nearby property that has a few huge trees.  With everything going on, I couldn't make that happen in June.  But I did finally go tramping back into the weeds to those trees last week.

To my great disappointment, there's not one single nut to be seen.  We had several late/hard frosts that wiped out most stone fruits here this spring.  I dunno if the lack of nuts is related to that, or if it's just not a mast year for these trees.  

But it looks like 2020 is not going to be the year I try to make nocino.  Not the biggest disappointment of the year, but still... a bummer.
 
greg mosser
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aw, that is a bummer. i thought i had missed the window here but then found a tree with smaller (less ripe) nuts than all the others...so now i have a batch started. i seem to be edging farther from liqueur towards bitters and adding less sugar (now honey, because it turns out my wife can't tolerate cane sugar) every time i make it. this batch has some of the classic imported ingredients like lemon zest, clove, and cinnamon, but it's been a little more local-i-fied with mugwort (also bitter!) and spicebush berries. looking forward to seeing how it compares to earlier incarnations.

in the interest of science and on the topic of aging, i'm sipping on a ½oz from the first batch i made in 2016. it has definitely mellowed a lot and now is actually more of an interesting liqueur (before its rough edges were pronounced enough to be a bit distracting). this first batch had the most sugar of any in it so the bitterness is pretty much totally masked by the sugar, so the liquor is left with this deep richness that is really nice.

i'm really not trying to rub it in or anything, dan. maybe i can send you a little consolation bottle.
noc.jpg
nocino 2020
nocino 2020
 
Dan Boone
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It's all right.  Most of the productive stuff around here seems to have good years and "none at all" years.  This year is looking like a HUGE year for our wild passionfruit -- passiflora incarnata.  I mostly just stuff those into my face, but I might try running a bunch of them through a juicer and seeing if I can make a flavored syrup with them to use in cocktails.  
 
greg mosser
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well, cheers to that. maybe we could work out a trade, though. a couple of those maypops full of seeds would make packing up a bottle of nocino (or other things!) pretty worth-it.
 
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greg mosser wrote:... this batch has ... been a little more local-i-fied with mugwort (also bitter!) and spicebush berries.



I made my first batch with just the black walnuts and then added the sweet and spice with sugar in which i put the few spicebush berries i collected. I don't drink much so it's taking a while to finish, but it was a marvelous way to use black walnuts. I want to try picking some, perhaps next year.

 
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Dan Boone wrote:...  This year is looking like a HUGE year for our wild passionfruit -- passiflora incarnata.  I mostly just stuff those into my face, ...  



This is the third year for a volunteer plant (under our black walnut). I've put it up on a tee-pee, and it's setting plenty of fruit. I've been wondering what to do with them once they ripen. Do you just spit out the seeds as you go? Or swallow the seeds?

I ran across something that implied the skin has pectin, but the jam recipes all seem to add pectin.

 
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Has anyone tried making Nocino with Butternuts (white walnut)? I foraged a modest amount today and am curious if they are a suitable substitute?
 
greg mosser
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if they’re still small enough that you can chop them, shell and all, i’m sure they’ll work fine.
 
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Great thread, I remembered this year, by way of an article that popped up on social media, to collect some green/unripe black walnuts! Enough within arms reach from the ground to make some small batches, leaving plenty higher up to harvest this fall when they are ripe and on the ground.
I made one batch of nocino, and one of walnut "honey" (a sugar maceration) which the author of the article suggested could be used to sweeten the nocino.
I got mine from a few different trees a few miles apart, the ones that went into the "honey" were still soft, and cut easily, the ones from a different site (3 different trees) were beginning to harden the shell in the very center, but cut easily enough (maybe like a chicken bone?)

We have a butternut on our property, but it's nuts are all high up out of reach, much easier to wait to collect the mature nuts after they fall...
 
greg mosser
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i actually started a batch with just early-dropped mockernut hickory nuts, no spices, just to see what it was like. it’s pretty different - leatherier, if that’s a word. trying to figure out what kinda spices to pair the flavor with.
 
Dan Boone
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Of course when I typed the phrase "prodigious nut production" in the original post back in 2019, it guaranteed that I would not see another black walnut tree with fruit on it for three years.  

Worse yet, this does not look like a mast year for the local black walnuts that I have easy access to, either.  But I was able to scrounge a literal handful (five green nuts) off one of my neighbor's trees.  It's enough for a test batch.

The green nuts had a strong spicy odor, just sitting in the palm of my hand.  I know that June 24th is the traditional time for picking European walnuts for nocino, but I couldn't find any solid nocino harvest date recommendations for the American black walnuts.  The nuts I found seemed very hard in my hand, so it was an enormous relief when they quartered easily using my best chef knife.  Crunchy and solid, yes, but easily sliced without whacking or chopping.   It was not deliberate that I picked these on an easily-remembered date like June 21, but it seems like a fine date for this species where I am.

Somewhat to my surprise, the chambers in my nuts had a green translucent liquid in them that dripped out onto the parchment paper I used to protect my cutting board.  I wonder if next time I should capture and incorporate that fluid?  

Anyway, five nuts loosely fills about a quarter of a quart mason jar.  So, rough "five nuts to the cup" ratio if you're picking to make a gallon batch.  

I am going with the alcohol-soak first, add spices later approach.  So I topped the nuts to the 400ml line on my jar.  I used Everclear, due to still having a liter bottle around from when I bought it at the start of the pandemic, when it looked like we might need to make our own hand sanitizer.  Some recipes for nocino speak of vodka or other 40% spirits, but all the more serious ones seem to recommend "pure" 95% stuff like the Everclear.  

Experiment finally underway!  I'll keep y'all posted.
62BE34C6-E13D-492E-9EDC-02DAC9290F60.jpeg
5 black walnuts, immature
5 black walnuts, immature
4DA325CB-87BF-4919-AE57-C6A37198E963.jpeg
Quartered nuts soaking in alcohol
Quartered nuts soaking in alcohol
 
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Good medicine in the tincture of walnut in alcohol. I use 180 proof with anything tough and woody like that.
 
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Jan White wrote:
I think the walnut trees around here are all grown from seed. Seems like every tree is different - my favourite has very smooth shelled nuts that you can crack in your hands. The shells fall away from whole nuts easily, and the nuts are sweet.


Jan please share some of those good ones!
 
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Can’t wait to see how it turns out Dan
 
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Hello, writing from walnut country, noix de Grenoble, which would be in the English walnut style. One could look up vin de noix, for recipes, eg 40 green unripe or soft nuts, quartered, 1 litre of serious alcohol and about 3 or is it 4 litres of wine, usually red wine and 40 lumps of sugar. I have difficulty following recipes at the best of times. I have demijohns with walnuts in alcohol, no wine or whatever, yet, for several years. I’ll get round to them in the fullness of time. The black walnut, called American walnut here, is used for grafting for instance. It is a fabulous medicine; great tincture for treating parasites in humans, and, I believe, a source of iodine.
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And forgot to mention, husk fly, partial to urea or whatever, so I spoil them with bottles of my urine hung in the trees to tempt them away from the fruit. It works a treat. Same method used for the lovely moths which were devouring box
 
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I make the walnut liqueur the following way:

Half a jar filled with halved green walnuts. Fill with equal amounts of liquid honey and 95% everclear. Leave covered in a dark place for at least 4 months - shaking it gently once every few weeks. It should be drunk within a first year - otherwise it will develop strong medicine-like flavor that I can not tolerate.
 
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Armenians preserve green walnuts in syrup. I don’t have the recipe.
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I make nocino almost every year. The black  walnuts are my favorite. I use vodka and dry sugar & vary the seasonings. Usually cinnamon & lemon peel, sometimes cardamon, particularly with the black ones .
St. John's day, give or take, works fine in my area. If you can still cut them they are good.
A friend wanted an anti-parasitic for traveling, she had caught parasites on a previous trip, and I had no simple tincture to give her. The black walnut nocino worked fine.
Black walnuts are also a traditional dye.
 
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I've also used green pecans as well as english walnuts. Black walnuts from now on.
 
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I got excited to try this this year... however I failed to notice that the walnuts needed to be green.

I got like a bucket and half left of walnuts in shell now, not the worse thing though!
 
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greg mosser wrote:dunno if i have any tips, but i've made black walnut nocino a couple of times (just missed the window for soft-shell nuts this year so i skipped it). i agree, best/easiest when the shells are still soft enough to cut with a knife. p. baudar has a recipe in his book 'the new wildcrafted cuisine' - since he's in california, he uses the california black walnut (different species), but it's all the same at that ripeness, i imagine.
.



I should look that up. I probably get just enough of those annoying nuts to make nocino and eat the English walnuts later.
 
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Hi all! I know this is an old thread but maybe it will still be seen…For those of you making consumable products with black walnuts aren’t you worried about toxicity? It’s commonplace in 2023 to make walnut tinctures and take drops to a dropper full of tincture. To take a full shot or the amount in a liquor equivalent seems it would contain to much of the active compounds. Just wondering, Tia
 
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Hi Crystal,

Welcome to Permies.

I have had zero concerns about eating black walnuts.  
 
Ellen Lewis
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Location: SF bay area zone 10a
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For those of you making consumable products with black walnuts aren’t you worried about toxicity? It’s commonplace in 2023 to make walnut tinctures and take drops to a dropper full of tincture.



A standard tincture is 1 part plant material to two parts alcohol.

Nocino is maybe one to four or five parts, plus then there's added syrup. Nobody's chugging the stuff, either. Cordial glasses.

As I mentioned above, it does work well medicinally. I don't believe a medicinal dose or an after-dinner dose is appreciably toxic to most people.
If you are particularly sensitive you already know to try any new consumable in moderation.
 
marie-helene kutek
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Saluti,
Welcome welcome!?
Walnut picking time is approaching on this side of the hemisphere.
Tractors are roaring around at all hours to cut grass to within a mm of existence.
Some or many walnut orchards have had their toxic herbicide spray quite recently, oh joy.

Walnut toxicity - is it possible that the black walnut v. the ‘english’ and the ‘noix de Grenoble’ are chemically a little different?
The black walnut is very difficult to crack and the husk is of the strongest finger staining calibre.

I have made walnut wine with many different varieties of walnut and there appear not to have been any ill effects from any of them.
The wine has an aroma remini-[b]Scent[/b]scent of sherry, apparently( for those who like word play).
One does indeed drink it with parsimony.
Don’ t drink alcohol so wouldn’t necessarily poison myself, but I do pick and consume mushrooms.

I have just read pages and pages of is it drivel/ the joke pages. Wonderful effect on my current state.
My writing also seems affected or effected.
Whatever, thank you joke contributors and walnut folks.
Blessings all round from warm and sunny, cool nights M-H
 
Cob is sand, clay and sometimes straw. This tiny ad is made of cob:
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https://permies.com/t/238620/perennial-vegetables/FREE-Perma-Veggies-Book
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