I love that Italy is so full of traditions…us Italians like to celebrate every little thing. Many are done because our Grandmother did it, or her Grandmother, or hers. Here’s another to add to the list…the making of Nocino. In celebration of St John the Baptists birth, a liquor is made that has hints of nutmeg and vanilla and coffee and is meant to be sipped after dinner to celebrate the end of the meal.
It is tradition that it must be made on his birthday, which is June 24th and it’s made using green walnuts picked by (and I’m not making this up) a virgin. Not only a virgin, but one who is barefoot.
I don’t happen to have a walnut tree in my garden (yet) so when I found a local farm (http://www.walnuts.us) that did have them, I got up the nerve to ask if they might possibly, maybe – ummm, did they happen to have a virgin available who could pick them while barefoot for me? Because, you know…tradition?? And because, you know…I’m not one? 😎
They laughed on the phone and said ‘Let me guess. You’re making Nocino on the the 24th?”
Turns out I’m not the only one to ask the question.
Once made, Nocino needs to sit in a sunny window for 6-8 weeks. I shook it a couple of times a week and watched it turn from clear to bright green to dark brown in color. There’s no way to ruin it except to not be patient…it’s just not good to drink at this stage of the game.
I had hoped to let it steep for the full eight weeks, but we began a kitchen remodel and space for things was at a premium. So six and a half weeks in, I kicked off my shoes, strained it twice and bottled it. It will be stored in a dark place for the next few months – it’s best after a full year, but my thought is we will bring out a bottle on Christmas Day.
We did sneak a taste and it is super good. Not sweet, but tastes of vanilla and nutmeg and allspice. Total holiday flavors.
- 30 green, unripened walnuts
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 whole cloves
- 1/2 whole nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean
- 3 slices of lemon peel, yellow part only (removed with a vegetable peeler)
- 7 allspice berries
- 7 coffee beans
- 2 1/2 cups organic sugar
- 1 liter vodka
Rinse the walnuts and pat dry. Wearing gloves (these things will stain your hands, much like beets do) and using a sharp knife, carefully cut the walnuts in quarters. Place in a large, one gallon glass jar and add remaining ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon and set in a sunny window for 6-8 weeks, stirring or shaking the jar every few days. It WILL turn all sorts of colors of green…don’t worry, it will darken a few weeks in. After a minimum of six weeks, strain the liquid twice through a fine sieve lined with cheese cloth into smaller bottles with tight fitting lids. It’s ok to drink right away, but it’s best to tuck it away for at least six months…and even better after a few years. Serve in small glasses after a meal, or pour a little over vanilla ice cream.