I had the most unexpected lucky windfall last week. For several years I've followed the adventures of other cooks who were lucky enough to get their hands on green walnuts, and who parlayed their good fortune into sweet, spicy, delicious green walnut liqueur. Yes, green walnuts are good for more than feeding squirrels and littering sidewalks; they also transform inexpensive liquor into an apparently transcendent liqueur. I wished that I could get my hands on some green walnuts, but until last week I didn't realize that I had an enormous walnut tree of my own in the alley behind the house.
Black walnut trees are actually quite common throughout much of the United States, especially in the Midwest. They are easily spread by squirrels who bury their nuts and then forget about them. We had one well-grown sapling butting up against the house, about to get tangled in power lines, and my husband and father-in-law cut it down last weekend. That was when I realized (of course!) that other big tree? Behind the compost pile and in the alley? That's a black walnut tree too! It's an enormous tree; I can't believe I didn't notice that it was indeed a black walnut until now!
But surely the nuts won't be green anymore, I thought. They come into their brief season in May in California, and mid-June in Italy and France. They will be hard and bitter by now.
But no! When we shook down a few golf-ball-sized nuts, green and scented like powerful herbs, they were still young and ripe. Their insides were pale and white, with a thick green coating outside. I couldn't believe my luck!
We pruned the tree (it needed it) and shook down over 6 pounds of unripe nuts. I'm sure there were pounds and pounds still in the tree. We'll leave them for the squirrels, since for now I have what I want: 11 quarts of liqueuer and vin de noix steeping in a cool, dark spot. I used both of Lucy Vanel's recipes from her wonderful site, My Kitchen Notebook:
• Vin de Noix - with recipes for a strong liqueur made with vodka and vermouth, and another version with white wine and vodka
Have you ever made (or tasted) a liqueur made with green walnuts? What did you think?
Related: Vin de Noix and Nocino - Kathryn's experience with green walnut wine
(Images: Faith Durand)