An Apéritif for all Year
The first liquor we made in France was our homemade walnut wine. June 24th, Saint John’s day, is the traditional day in Provence to pick green walnuts for walnut wine. Yes, it’s a specific day. However, if you manage to find some new walnuts on the ground during the next couple weeks, your walnut wine should turn out just fine! Just tell your neighbour that you picked them on the 24th…
Depending on where you live the walnuts may or may not be ready. The walnuts must be picked before their hard shell forms within the lime green casing. In any case, it’s quite difficult to go wrong here (even if you do fiddle with the recipe) as this is one of the easiest and most satisfying home liquors to make.
The first time I tried walnut wine was in the French Alps; I was smitten. In fact, it is in the Northern parts of Provence that making walnut wine as a farm kitchen apéritif is most popular. The liquor is sometimes made by steeping the new walnuts in 80% proof alcohol (more common in Italy) but here it is made by using a base of red wine. The final product is a smooth raisin coloured wine quite similar to Port.
Last year I lived next to an entire orchard of unloved walnut trees. It was then that I earned Robin’s nickname for me: ‘squirrel,’ as I attempted to make use of as many of these walnuts as I could (it was particularly embarrassing during the autumn months).
If you look on the Internet for a walnut wine recipe you’ll see that many people add cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, mace and all manner of spices during the steeping process. I asked the winemaker at the vineyard down the road and he recoiled in disgust when I asked him which spices I should add. Thank goodness, I was worried that he was offended that I was using his wine to make walnut wine… Thankfully, he didn’t seem to mind. We then witnessed an argument between him and his elderly mother on the correct amount of walnuts per litre to use. He has a degree in winemaking- but her years of experience won.
In the end, I opted not to use any spices. As I currently sit here proudly sipping on a chilled glass of the lovely nectar; I must say I’m glad I omitted them. I followed the true Paysan rule which is basically to steep the walnuts for three months. If you add spices and steep for such a long time, the wine can take on an acrid note. I also didn’t want to overpower the natural perfume of the walnuts.
From the photo above you may notice that I indeed tripled the recipe I’ve provided here. If you plan on doing this, 1.5 litres of eau de vie is sufficient. Once you add that amount of alcohol you can’t take it back!
update: it has now been 2 years since we’ve made this and oh my gosh it just gets better! Soo much better than any walnut wine I’ve tried from a store.
See also: how to pick walnuts.