Gather the green walnuts directly from a tree; you won’t find them for sale. You’ll want to be sure that the tree has not been sprayed with anything you would not like to drink.
The walnuts should be on the small size, about the size of a golf ball, or even smaller. (The nut and it’s characteristic hard shell are still forming within the green outer shell that you see on the tree.) While the size and timing varies according to climate, a good general rule is that a sharp knife or a knitting needle can pass easily through the whole nut. If you encounter a hard shell forming inside the nut, it’s too old to use for Nocino.
Don your rubber gloves now. Wash and quarter the green walnuts. A fine sap seeps from the cut pieces, and you can see the convoluted nutmeat beginning to form, still white and green. While the sap is translucent, it will quickly turn black and stain the skin without the protection of gloves.
Breathe deep, though. The smell that comes from the cut walnuts is surprisingly crisp and piney, very un-walnut, and it gives a hint of the flavor that will eventually develop in the mature Nocino.
Place the quartered nuts in the jar, along with the cloves, lemon peel, and cinnamon. A vanilla bean may be added, if you desire. Pour the spirit over the top of the ingredients, until the nuts are covered with the alcohol.
Shake the jar, and watch the color begin to change before your eyes. At first, it is a fine, bright green color, but as the days pass it will darken, becoming first dark green, then olive, all the way to deepest black by the end of 2 months.
Place the jar in a warm spot, and shake it every day to incorporate any sediment that might form on the bottom of the jar. Several recipes that we consulted for this recommended keeping the jar in a sunny window, a traditional method. Generally speaking, infusions that are left in the sunlight have a sharper flavor, while infusions kept in the dark have a softer, more mellow flavor. Warm room temperatures in either case are best to allow the full flavor of the green walnuts to come through.
After 4 weeks, the liquid should be very dark, even black. Open the jar and add the sugar. Shake it well to dissolve the sugar, then close it back up and allow it to infuse for 2 more weeks. You may wish to decrease the amount of sugar to suit your taste.
Continue to shake the jar daily for 2 more weeks, or until the sugar has completely dissolved. Using cheesecloth or a jelly bag, strain the walnut mixture from the spirit.
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.