Nocino is an Italian liqueur made with green walnuts whose dark magical blend is not just delicious and warming in the winter when it’s ready to be drunk, but whose seeping uncovers just how immersed Christian traditions are in their Italian folklore past.
Walnut trees were famous for being sacred to witches due to their self-sufficient hermaphrodite qualities and their ability to weather the harshest elements, including drought, and still bear fruit. The nuts themselves were the pride of Rome and known as Jupiter’s nuts, Jovis glans, which the gods dined upon whereas man ate acorns.
Following hotly in the footsteps of the witches’ Sabbath, the summer solstice and shortest night of the year came St John the Baptist Day, the 24th June, which continued the tradition of celebrating light’s battle over darkness. If you were going to brew a drink ready for the winter solstice what better day to pick to start the process! Actually outside all its magical and religious symbology, this start date is considered beneficial simply because it precedes the walnut moth caterpillar beginning its lifecycle and feasting on the soft kernels and husks.
Traditionally the very best Nocino requires barefoot virgins gathering an uneven figure (21 or 23) of soft, green, dew-laden walnuts which they would leave to dry by the remains of the threshing fires that had been used to quicken the laborious process of separating the wheat. If a virgin was feeling a little left on the shelf, it was at this time they were encouraged to pick St John’s Wort to naturally combat depression and hang the remainder outside to see off the evil eye.
Traditionally Nocino mustn’t be tried before the 3rd November although there are people that advise letting a year go past for this walnut liqueur to mellow before you drink it! You can rest assured that not only will it warm your spirit and fend off evil and bad spirits as dark nights close in, this walnut elixir it will also potentially work a little of its oily omega magic on skin conditions such as acne and eczema, as well as sore throats.
This year I’m going to try a variation of the Nocino recipe offered by The Florentine and MyMansBelly, as I am curious what the addition of the coffee beans will bring. Thanks to La Grande Quercia b&b for use of their seeping nocino and bag of 23 walnuts!
- 23 Green Walnuts
- Zest from 2 Unwaxed Organic Lemons
- 2 Cloves
- 2 All Spice Berries
- 12 Coffee Beans
- 2 Vanilla Pods
- 2 Cinnamon Sticks
- 2 litres of Vodka or 96% proof Alcohol
- 500 g Light Brown Sugar
- 500 ml Water
- Wash the lemons and leave to dry, and then peel the zest without the pith and add t the alcohol
- Split the vanilla pods lengthways down one side and scrape the seeds of the pod into the alcohol, before adding the remains of the pod along with the cloves, cinnamon and coffee beans and add into a large preserving jar.
- Wearing rubber gloves as walnuts badly stain, cut each walnut into quarters add into the alcohol with the other aromatic ingredients, close the lid and leave to macerate/steep in a cool dark place during which time the flavours and colours will seep out and infuse with the alcohol.
- After 4 months, make a syrup with the water and sugar and simmer for 5 minutes and set aside to cool
- Strain the aromatic liquid that your walnuts are steeping in.
- Pour the dark liquid into the cooled sugar syrup, stir gently and bottle.
- Leave it to rest for 1 more week and have your first taste on November 3rd