It was five years ago that I read Martha Holmberg's story in MIX magazine about a yearly nocino-making party in winemaker Anne Hubatch's back yard, and got to try some of the walnut-based liqueur they made courtesy of my friend, writer Peter Szymczak. I kept swearing I'd make it myself one of these days, even participating in a nut harvest and nocino demo at my friend Jim's place three years ago.
Unripe English walnuts.
Originating in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, nocino is a sweet liqueur made in the spring—late June in Italy, early to mid-July in the Northwest—from the green, unripe fruit of the walnut tree. Fortunately for Oregonians, walnut trees abound in our climate and, from the broken green detritus I tiptoe through with the dogs on our walks through the neighborhood, most of the fruit ends up rotting on the sidewalks or getting tossed in the compost bin.
Some halved, some not.
It's the simplest of processes to make nocino, and even Jim has given up halving the soft green fruit before stuffing them in gallon jars and pouring in enough 190-proof alcohol—available at Oregon liquor stores under the odd brand name "Clear Spring"—to cover them. Wait a couple of months, add some simple syrup, and…bingo…nocino! (Check out Jim's recipe.)
So right now you'll find two gallon jars sitting out on the patio (top photo), and every once in awhile between now and mid-September I'll give you an update. See what I mean about the waiting? Yikes!