This Year’s Nocino Recipe

I just put in a quart of nocino. The cool spring this year seems to have hurt the black walnuts, but not the English walnuts; most of my black walnut sources appeared nearly empty, and even the big one by the bike trail only yielded a handful. Either that or I’ve lost my skill at walnut-spotting – they’re really quite well camouflaged. Meanwhile, the bit of the English walnut tree that overhangs a neighbor’s fence is just as fruitful as ever.

Last year I did two batches of nocino, one using black walnuts and a smaller one with English walnuts; this year, I only found enough nuts to produce one combined batch. Since my favorite last year kept switching back and forth as the liqueurs evolved, I’m hoping that I’ll get a nice blend of flavors.

To make up for the relative paucity of walnuts, I added a couple of fragrant leaves from the black walnut tree. I might take those out of the jar sooner than the traditional 40-day infusion the baby walnuts will be getting; since they are thin, they shouldn’t need as much time and might start to contribute less-soluble more-yucky constituents that aren’t present in the nuts and husks. Then again, I might forget, and leave the leaves in the whole time. We’ll see.

In a 1 quart jar, I put:

  • 8 English walnuts (quartered)
  • 14 black walnuts (halved – they are smaller)
  • 2 black walnut leaves
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 cup sugar*
  • Cheap vodka that I ran through a Brita filter*

Tradition says that you can start drinking this at Christmas (or, accounting for the fact that Seattle’s walnut-ripening schedule is delayed relative to Italy’s, on National Pie Day) but tradition is wrong. I’m still figuring out how to tell when a liqueur needs more time on the shelf, and when it is at or past its prime, but the last bits of both of last year’s batches were so much amazingly better than the initial taste I had in January (and the subsequent tastes I had in February, March, and April…) that I’m not even gonna open this one until May.

*I was planning to do 2 cups of sugar, but I put the vodka in first, and then didn’t want to waste it by sloshing it all over the top of the jar… sugar can help pull flavor into an infusion (something something osmotic pressure something) but it can also be added at bottling time.

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