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You might be able to find preserved fresh walnuts in some Armenian, Greek, or Middle Eastern markets, but it's also not terribly hard to make them at home. And what's better than eating (and sharing) food you've painstakingly prepared yourself?
What to Do With Fresh, Green Walnuts
What can you do with green walnuts? In addition to making nocino, an Italian liqueur, fresh, green walnuts can also be used to make a delicious Armenian preserve. Like with nocino, the white/green fresh walnuts turn a dark mahogany brown, and, preserved in syrup, have a delicious, rich maple/date flavor and exquisite firm texture that goes well with bread and cheese.
What You'll Need to Make Walnut Preserves
Scale these ingredients as appropriate:
- 1 1/2 pounds of fresh, green walnuts (about 23-30, depending on size)
- 1 1/2 pounds of sugar
- 3 1/4 cups of water
- 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 a vanilla bean)
- 4 cloves (or 1 teaspoon) cardamom
- 1 pound pickling lime (optional—it's called kir/gir by Armenians and cal in Mexican groceries)
How to Make Walnut Preserves From Scratch
1. Find Fresh Walnuts
This will be probably the most difficult part of the process. If you're fortunate to have your own black walnut tree, or access to one, then pick them when they're green, sometime in June—the earlier the better. The size of the green walnut should be between a very large olive and a very small egg. If you harvest before the hard inner shell develops, you should be able to cut each in half very easily, and it should be a light green and white inside.
If you don't have access to a walnut tree, then go to a local farmer's market and find a nut purveyor. Ask them if you could buy some green walnuts; you'll probably have to make a special order since they might not have them on hand. You could also try calling around at some pick-your-own nut farms and see if you're able to harvest the walnut trees a bit earlier than their typical season, which is later in the summer.
As a final resort, try contacting a nut company (like Mt Lassen Farms in California) that sells green walnuts by mail order. Again, timing is key: you'll want to order your green walnuts at the end of May or very early June at the latest. (Note to those in the Southern Hemisphere: you'll want to pick your walnuts in December.)
2. Peel and Soak Your Green Walnuts
For the next step, you'll need gloves: rubber kitchen gloves are just fine, although latex gloves will probably afford you more flexibility and comfort. Green walnuts, when cut open, leak a clear, colorless liquid that will very rapidly turn a dark, coffee-colored brown and which will stain your fingers in a way that takes a couple of weeks of relentless scrubbing to get off!
- So, don your gloves, and use a potato peeler to take off the skin. You can also cut off any woody stem bit at the ends, too.
- Place the skinned walnuts in a pot of cold water. You might also want to prick your walnuts at least halfway through with a fork, although you can also do this a few days later after your walnuts have soaked for a while.
- At this stage, be sure to weigh your peeled walnuts. This will be important at a later stage.
- Soak your walnuts in fresh, cold water for 9 days, changing the water twice daily. They will float, but you can keep them submerged by placing a ceramic plate on top of them. The water will take on a gold-to-green color by the time you rinse them. Rinsing is important because you're basically washing away the naturally bitter taste in the unripe walnuts. You'll also notice that the walnuts will slowly darken, going from a light green to a dark green to an eventual dark mahogany brown.
- If you want a firmer walnut preserve, then transfer and soak in lime water (pickling lime dissolved in cold water) for days 5-8, changing the water daily. The pickling lime contains calcium hydroxide, which is safe in small quantities, and which precipitates the naturally-occurring pectin in the walnuts, resulting in a firmer (but still soft) preserve.
- You'll still want to soak in regular cold water for the 9th day.
3. Prepare the Syrup and Cook Your Walnuts
- Poke each walnut 3-4 times with a chopstick, a large knitting needle, or a fork, then throw them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and allow to dry completely.
- Add the sugar and water to a pot. Bring to a boil, and then toss in the walnuts. Bring to a boil again, and then simmer the walnuts in the syrup for about 30 minutes. Cover and allow to cool for about 6 hours (ideally overnight).
- Add the lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and cloves/cardamom to the pot, reheat, and cook for another 30 minutes. Check a walnut to make sure it is soft but still has some "give" (it should have the texture of cheddar cheese); if it's still too firm, cook it longer until it softens.
- When the walnuts are ready, pour them and the syrup (I'd remove the vanilla beans) into sterilized jars and seal. I would wait at least a week before consuming, but they should keep for at least 6 months in a cool, dark place. I also suggest refrigerating them before eating; they taste great cold!