June 13, 2011
Pickled walnuts are an English delicacy and yet a curiosity to walnut lovers in other countries.
In some of the most famous walnut regions of the world, such as Grenoble in France, the idea of a pickled walnut raises eyebrows. This region of France produces wonderful food items including many based on walnuts. Beyond the readily available fresh walnuts you will be tempted by candied walnuts, walnut sweets, walnut nougat and walnut jam. With a meal you can enjoy many wonderful tarts and cakes, savoury breads, walnut oil and walnut-covered cheese. Not forgetting walnut drinks too, with aperitifs such as Eau de Noix or Ratafia, and walnut wine. But no pickled walnuts!
So what inspired the English to invent the pickled walnut? Simply; necessity. Often the English summer does not produce enough heat for walnut trees to produce a good crop of fully-formed walnuts that can be picked for their nuts. Instead the whole fruit, technically a drupe, can be picked before the shell has formed inside.
Walnuts are rich in anitoxidants and an important part of a healthy diet; as Hippocrates knew only too well. They are thought to help in reducing inflammation in the arteries, lowering cholesterol and even reducing heart diease. There is disagreement as to whether roasting walnuts reduces the level of antioxidants compared to fresh walnuts: I have no idea about the effects of pickling.
I can’t just impart these fascinating facts without providing readers with a recipe. Here’s a tried and trusted one, and right now is the time to get ready to start pickling.
Recipe – Pickled Walnut
Pickling walnuts takes about three weeks from the picking to the end of the preserving process but it is very simple. Here’s my recipe.
For the brine
Walnut fruits (freshly picked) 1kg
For the syrup (for every kg of walnut fruit)
malt vinegar 500ml
brown sugar 250g
allspice ½ teaspoon
cinnamon ¼ teaspoon
cloves ½ teaspoon
grated fresh ginger ½ tablespoon
garlic 1 clove (optional)
Picking and preparing the walnut fruits
- Pick the walnut fruit (drupe) before the end of June, before the nutshell has formed inside the green husk. You can test for readiness by inserting a sharp point, such as a strong pin or darning needle, into the green husk at the end where it was connected to the tree. If you meet no hard resistance then you know there’s no shell formed inside and you’re not too late!
- Wearing rubber gloves prick each walnut fruit with a fork a couple of times. The gloves are important as the innocuous-looking brown juice will stain your hands for several weeks, despite all attempts to clean them – you have been warned!
- In a bucket or other suitable container, cover the walnut fruits with a brine solution (water and the salt). Leave for one week.
- Drain and repeat with a fresh brine solution and leave for another week.
- Next, drain the walnuts and lay out in single layers on trays, in a dry and airy place. Within in a few days they will turn black (like your hands still are if you didn’t wear gloves!). You may want to check every walnut with a darning needle, discarding those where you meet resistance from a hard shell inside. You are now ready to begin the pickling.
- Create a pickling syrup. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring the mixture to the boil.
- Add the prepared walnuts and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool. First spoon the walnuts into large jars, and when almost full, cover with the syrup mixture. Apply a tight-fitting lid. Stored in a cool place, such as a garage or outhouse, they will last for years in their jars.
Pickled walnuts are wonderful served as they are with cheeses and cold meats, and also great in many cooked dishes. Here are a few recipes on the BBC food pages.