DL’s liqueur de noix in my jar
“What kind of tree is this?”
“Yeah, but don’t get too excited. The parrots always get to the nuts first.”
That was a conversation that I had with SJ earlier this year about a big tree in his front yard. Fast forward to today and yes, he was right. The parrots, well fed on the fig, stone fruit, and walnut trees dotting L.A.’s backyards (little green bastards), had already begun their assault on the still very green walnuts. Thoughts of homegrown walnuts dotting my banana bread started to fizzle.
And then, I read a post on David Lebovitz’s blog about liqueur de noix…and the conversation changed.
“How many of those green walnuts can we pick today?”
This is one of those recipes that makes me feel good about myself on a few different levels. One, I’m using our own harvest. Even if all you’re harvesting is bushel after bushel of zucchini (that you overplanted, not realizing that eventually even your neighbor’s dog wouldn’t want your bumper crop, not that I’ve ever done this), there is something wonderful about using and eating your own crops. Two, this particular crop was seemingly written off as unusable because of the little green bastards – rescuing it from their greedy beaks and turning it into something useful feels like a triumph. Three, liqueur de noix – it even sounds decadent. DL pours it over his own homemade vanilla ice cream. The French sometimes drink it as a digestif. It’s dark and luscious and homemade – you won’t find it except in reused wine and liquor bottles at the back (or front) of someone’s pantry. And four?
It’s cheap to make. Seriously. It’s just vodka, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, lemon peel, and the aforementioned green walnuts (rather than post DL’s recipe here, I’m going to say go to his site and get it. And then read everything else. He’s pretty great.). Ok, the vanilla bean may set you back a little – last time I tried to buy one at my local grocer it was $11. For one bean. But everything else is pantry fodder – minus the green walnuts. I got lucky on two scores. I read DL’s post RIGHT when the green walnuts were harvestable for liqueur making (late July) AND, well, I have access to a walnut tree. If you don’t, I’d suggest getting to know your local nut vendor at your farmers’ market and seeing if they’ll part with a bag of them. Get two bags and make him or her a batch as payment. You may end up finding them a new product to sell. Personally? I have yet to see any of my usual vendors voluntarily sell young, green walnuts. And lo, we are less rich as a culture for it. But I have hope that this will change eventually and that L.A. will ride the liqueur de noix train to a happy, if slightly inebriated, conclusion.
I’ve never actually seen the interior of a green walnut. At this stage, the skin of the nut is starting to form and has a pliable and leathery feel to it, but is as delicate as a flower petal. The interior that is to become the nut is almost gooey and gelatinous in some parts. The outer shell is just barely there. Even though all these young parts seem like they’d be easy to prepare (DL quarters them), the green walnut is still a tough nut to crack.
I tried the recommended “tap and tap again” method that DL espouses. Trying to tap your cleaver into a marble-like green orb isn’t entirely that simple. But with a few good whacks, you’ll eventually achieve your quarters. Just be careful. Thirty entirely frustrating whacks later, I had a jar full of proto-liqueur de noix.
We’re supposed to shake it up, every day, for two months. After which we’ll have “dreamy, espresso-like walnut aroma[ed]” libation/digestif. One hopes…
I had, according to DL’s recommendation, used a super cheap vodka for this and had about a liter left over.
So I made slightly not quite limoncello. That only takes a few weeks as opposed to two months so we’ll have a nice tide-me-over until the liqueur is ready. Voila!