Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): the two Latin words solstice derives from. Celebrating the summer solstice, or Midsummer, is originally a pagan feast; June 24th was designated later as the holiday of Christian martyr St. John the Baptist.
Some pagan rituals continue to live on in Europe – during the eve preceding St. John’s Nativity bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits, for witches and demons are said to roam freely during the shortest night of the year. It’s also believed that treasures are waiting for the lucky finder, and I believe green walnuts are among the prizes.
In Roman times walnuts were worshipped as Jupiter’s plant, even the gods dining on them. This time of year they are in their unripe stage, still green and immature, kernels just starting to harden. Perfect for making a traditional aperitif popular throughout the Mediterranean: greenwalnut liqueur.
I’ve first encountered this aromatic drink at the Croatian seaside where it’s called orahovac. It is available commercially, but everyone has a cousin, an uncle or neighbour making it by the gallon, and Dalmatians being hospitable as they are, you simply can’t go home from a holiday without a plastic bottle filled with the murky liquid as farewell gift/souvenir.
Nocino in Italy, nocello when in Spain, liqueur de noix vertes in France are the names to look for. These are basically the same drink, although the spices added vary from region to region, from family to family.
Folklore has it that for the best greenwalnut liqueur, barefoot virgins are to gather an uneven number of dew-laden green walnuts, which should then be left to dry by the bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Riiight… I decided to go with the uneven figure thing from these criteria and hope for the best.
Actually, making rich and intense greenwalnut liqueur is not difficult at all, but does require some patience. When I say some, what I mean is you’re supposed to wait 40 days first, and even after that you shouldn’t drink your elixir before November as it needs to mature.
If you somehow managed to hide it forget about it until late autumn though, besides the spicy and warming taste, perks allegedly also include fending off evil spirits of the night, remedy for eczema and curing sore throat. Different strokes for different folks, right?
If all this magic, tradition and benefits are not reason enough for you to give greenwalnut liqueur a go, fine, but know that the aforementioned evil spirits will hunt you down. Just sayin’. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and set about doing it! Not just figuratively, as the walnuts stain everything they touch. It’s highly recommended to wear rubber gloves and an apron.
Warm and spicy, ink-black liqueur infused with green walnuts from the Mediterranean.
25 green, soft, unripe walnuts
750 ml vodka (or other 40% alc/vol or 80-proof, neutral tasting alcoholic beverage)
1 ½ cups sugar
optional: cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, vanilla pod, citrus peel, coffee beans
- Cut walnuts in half or quarters (wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains)
- Place sugar, walnuts and spices (if using) in a jar twice the capacity of the volume of the liquid, pour alcohol over ingredients.
- Close jar tightly, place on a sunny windowsill for 40 days. Gently shake every now and then to mix. Liquid will eventually turn from transparent to brownish, getting darker and darker over time.
- After 40 days, strain liqueur, bottle up and let mature until fall.
Salute! Salut! ¡Salud! Živjeli!