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
Water 1 litre
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.
HI Gabriel. Have you considered doing a YouTube blog/Video of the process of all this?
I have brined my walnuts for 2 weeks and although some are still greenish, a lot are already black and soft . Are they safe to use? Thank you
could this be made without sugar, or does the sugar act as a preservative or fermentation fuel? also, is it necessary to boil the walnuts to kill pathogens?–i read the texture gets much softer, and i’d prefer mine firm. and do the glass jars need to be sterilized? i lactoferment all the time without sterilizing equipment but don’t consider this a lactoferment. also, the vinegar is not acidic enough to inhibit botulism. is that a concern?–i made a batch of these last year, then discarded them without trying after reading other recipes that sterilized the jars and /or used a proper canning method. thanks for your thoughts!
It’s been interesting reading about walnuts as I wanted to make pickled walnuts out of my supply and have now been put off! I am a jelly maker and did a book about jellies called Making Jellied Preserves from hedgerow and garden’ and thought I could do something with the wonderful flavours of walnuts. Any ideas?
I remember having pickled walnuts when I was a youngster, some 50 years ago. This year we had a chance to get some fruit and have just finished making a batch of pickles following your recipe. We have them in canning jars, and did it according to your directions ie: put them in jars when they’re cool as opposed to a hot canning method. Just wondering if that’s correct, how long they will last this way, and how long should they sit before we open the first jar?
By the way, the malt vinegar syrup smelled fantastic while we were simmering the walnuts. Thank you.
North Saanich, BC
Just wanted to post a message to say thanks for this article. I made a lovely pickled batch from drupes picked before mudsummer of 2012, following your recipe but with cider vinegar. Last year the trees I had gathered from produced nothing, but still finishing the 2012 batch! I’m hoping for fruit on them this summer.
In answer to the above, mine were dried outside for four days during a rainy patch (though they were covered from the rain), and the pickles were a touch on the soft side – so yes I think the drying part is easy to get wrong, sounds to me like you dried yours way too much. They certainly shouldn’t be light! This year (if I can get fruit) I will dry them inside this time, until they feel pretty leathery.
Hi Gabriel – Hope that you are still responding to questions on this post! tried making pickled walnuts – different recipe – last year…. found that the walnuts sucked up most of the fluid after jarring – did you have this happen? If you did what do I do??? Maybe I dried them too much? They were very black and very light when I did jar them. Wondering if I would just rehydrate the walnuts in liquid before jarring – i.e. soak with a weight on – then jar, cover with hot liquid and seal??? Appreciate any thoughts you or anyone else has on this as it is time to start collecting! If you have a chance appreciate a response via email. Pacia
gabriel The answer to saveing your walnuts is to shoot the squirrels
… and then to eat them! Here’s a recipe I prepared earlier
I made pickled walnuts from my tree one year and all they are is little bundles of vinegar… not very nice at all! I don’t know what’s so special about them. I followed a recipe and am very disappointed.
This year I dissuaded the squirrels from taking my walnuts by smearing some of them with chilli powder and vaseline, and got a good crop which is DELICIOUS. My tree is less than 10 years old, a grafted specimen that is about 6 metres tall, and I got 400 nuts off it.
John Cossham, York
I got in trouble once, from the owner of a major pickling firm, after stating my view about pickled walnuts on national radio; so I’m a little more careful now!
I love your recipe for deterring squirrels from taking your walnuts. I guess your tree is quite small though? Any ideas as to how those at the top of a tall walnut tree could be saved?
Question: what happens of you pickles green walnuts which have the shell already formed?
I ran late this year and my walnuts had already the shell…I drilled them with a small drill bit and put them in the brine.
What will come out in the end after pickling?!
The idea with pickled walnuts is that you can serve them whole and they can be easily sliced on a plate. Having a shell makes this impossible so I don’t see why you would want to pickle them in the first place. If the shell is forming, then allow the fruit to develop fully and harvest as a nut in the autumn/fall.