One of the things we were excited about when moving to Wild Arc Farm was the opportunity to make Nocino from the many black walnuts produced by the trees surrounding the property. Nocino is one of many traditional "digestivo" liqueurs consumed throughout Italy to help with digestion after a meal. Some that you may be more familiar with are Amaro, Limoncello, and Sambuca.
We've been waiting patiently to harvest the green walnuts on the traditional day, June 24th, which is celebrated as the Feast of St. John the Baptist in Italy, and has been the harvest date for green walnuts for Nocino for almost two thousand years. This Italian tradition is said to have been "borrowed" from a Druid Midsummer ceremony by the Romans after adopting Christianity, however. It was said that the Druids would celebrate the summer solstice by concocting a brew from the unripe walnuts that would allow them to commune with goblins, elves, and faeries. Fingers crossed on that front.
Interestingly enough, when we went out to harvest, we had a hard time finding enough nuts this year, even though last year's crop was so abundant that the incessant thud of the mature walnuts falling to the ground became a part of the aural tapestry of autumnal farm life. It turns out that walnuts, like many fruit and nut trees, can become alternate bearing or "biennial producers" after certain stressful situations, and may continue to bear larger crops one year and smaller the next for quite some time. While that means a smaller batch of Nocino this year, it also means less of a mess from the husks in the fall.
We have seen a multitude of different recipes, but we opted to go with 31 walntus (never even numbers!) in about a liter of alcohol for the initial extraction. The traditional Tuscan version has no added flavorings, but in Naples they add some combination of lemon zest, cinnamon, anise, and coffee beans, so we may try two different versions.
Ultimately, when we get our farm distillery license, the goal is to tap black walnut trees for sap in late winter (check out farm brother Craig Cavallo's article on sugars of the world, where we first learned we could do that), ferment the walnut syrup, and distill it for the base of future Nocinos. For now we are just using commercial neutral grain spirits. Watch this space for updates!