Pickled walnuts – a tale NOT a recipe

green walnuts

The reason that this is a tale rather than a recipe is that I am not convinced that I have done this pickling of walnuts thing quite right and I don’t want you, my dear reader, making the same mistakes as I have. I have found too many conflicting recipes to make any sense of the procedure. So, please, feel free to read this and then promptly go off and do your own research and come to your own conclusions. I hope to try again next year and experience might go in my favour.

I have never pickled walnuts before, in fact I don’t think that I have ever eaten a pickled walnut. It has been on my list of things to do, though, for a long time. My generous friend, spoken of previously, has a lovely walnut tree. Walnuts wear the little green jackets that you can see in the photo above and the hard brown shell that we are all so familiar with forms underneath this jacket sometime between June and September, depending on the weather conditions and probably all sorts of other factors. A pickled walnut is the entire green seed pod and not just the nut inside. If you want to pickle your walnuts you need to get them off the tree before the hard shell starts to form. So, sometime towards the end of June or the middle of July.

Please be aware that the juices from a walnut will stain your hands decidedly yellow to dark brown depending on how much contact you have with it. Wear gloves whenever you handle them. I did and I still managed to have yellow hands when I finished pricking them.

The green pod has to be pricked with a fork or skewer several times and soaked in a salt brine for two weeks, changing the brine after the first week (or every three days, depending on whose advice you take). If your fork meets any resistance then discard this walnut as the shell has started to form and you were too late in your picking. It was at this brining  stage that I came across my first problem – a mould developed on the top of the brine. This surprised me as I didn’t think that a salt brine would attract mould. Perhaps my house in midsummer, with the Aga still pumping out at full bore, is just too warm for pickling walnuts. I have, however, ignored the mould. The walnuts submerged in the brine seem to be unaffected by this top layer of mould so I have carried on with the pickling process.  However, whilst I write this post I am considering that my salt brine was just two weak. Now that I have read Mrs Beeton’s wise words, (it didn’t occur to me to do so before brining) her salt brine at 500g salt to each litre of water is at least twice as much and sometimes four times more salt than others recommend.

The walnuts are still green, although a slightly darker green than before, when they come out of the brine. At this point you spread them on trays in a single layer and leave to go black. My walnuts went black very quickly, much quicker than I expected, in fact by the next morning. When they have turned black you pickle them. Now, my problem has been the conflicting and sometimes vague recipes that I have found online for this. One suggested that you use a sweet vinegar (malt vinegar, with the addition of brown sugar in a 2:1 ratio and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, star anise, peppercorns) bring it to a simmer and then the walnuts are added and allowed to simmer for 15 minutes. Another suggested that you just pour a spiced pickling vinegar over the walnuts in a jar and allow to marinate. Well, it seems to me that there is quite a difference there. Mrs Beeton, a woman of good sense, and surely someone that can be trusted in all things kitchen, advises that you boil the vinegar and pour it, still hot, over the walnuts in the jar, covering them completely.

I decided that as I like pickled damsons in a sweet vinegar so very much, that I would try the sweetened pickle vinegar, bringing 1 litre of malt vinegar, 500g of dark brown sugar, a piece of cinnamon, four cloves, a few peppercorns and a star anise to the boil. Add the 1 kg of brined and blackened walnuts and leave to cool for 10 minutes before placing into hot sterile jars. Covering completely with the vinegar.

There, you see, I have created a new method and probably more confusion. The walnuts are sitting in jars as I type. I will let you know how they taste in a month’s time (when they will be ready according to Mrs Beeton and not 5 days like some on the internet will tell you). Who knew that pickling walnuts would be such a minefield?

If you have pickled walnuts in the past and would like to pass on your wisdom, I would be forever grateful, that is unless you confuse me further.

Update October 2013 – Just to report we have tried the walnuts now and I can’t say I am impressed or unimpressed. They taste like something pickled but not particularly walnuty. Although we did try them with friends and one of them commented that she thought they were walnuty. Another friend suggested that they are good in a beef stew, so that’s what I shall be trying next for these little pickled things. 

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18 responses to “Pickled walnuts – a tale NOT a recipe

  1. There’s just one thing you haven’t explained. Why are pickled walnuts considered enjoyable? I’d sooner eat a piece of old tree bark soaked in vinegar. I just can’t fathom the appeal. Sorry.

    • Oh no Margaret, don’t disappoint me… I haven’t tried them so I have no idea what they taste like. I was hoping they would be good after the mither the pickling of them has been. I will let you know if I agree with you.

  2. The Country Cook

    I do like the taste of pickled walnuts so don’t give up hope!
    I have never tried doing my own, my very small young walnut tree has produced 4 nuts this year and I’m going to leave them to ripen on the tree and eat at Christmas!!
    Will be interested to hear what the end result is,
    ( have you also found a fake tan substitute?)

    • Ha ha I think I may have done, it does look like you forgot to wash your hands after applying fake tan. Thank goodness someone likes them. I would love a walnut tree. I have heard it takes 15 years for them to produce nuts. How old is yours? Enjoy those walnuts. I hope the squirrel doesn’t get them!

  3. I think Country Cook needs to explain the appeal. I’m sure they’ll be as good as they can be, Kath, and that you’ll love them anyway as they’re your babies. As to the fake tan… when I last handled immature walnuts, despite the gloves, I looked as though I had a 40 a day habit 😉

    • Yes, Margaret, I did find myself explaining to people that I had been pricking walnuts rather than taking up a serious habit. Although, the pricking of walnuts did make for raised eyebrows.

  4. The Country Cook

    Walnut tree was grown from a walnut( well obviously! ) planted as a nursery school project and is about 13 years old,
    I liked the texture and spice taste of the pickled walnuts, great with a good Gallibager cheese from the Isle of Wight or Blue Vinney from Dorset.

    • What a brilliant nursery project! My year one daughter bought a runner bean home this year – which was very stressful as she was a bit obsessed with it and all snails and slugs seemed to find that particular bean irresistible.

  5. I live in Spain so I looked up some recipes in spanish for you so here goes, this first one is again very similar to what you have, the serving idea seems interesting;

    50 green walnuts,salt water (100g salt to 600cc water), 750cc wine vinegar, 40g ginger, 35g piece nutmeg,45g cloves, 60g mustard seed.
    Prick walnuts at least 3 times each with toothpick place in salt water to cover and leave for 8 days, then strain and add fresh salt solution for another 16 days. Remove walnuts and dry and leave in sun till dark colour then place in glass jar and cover with spiced vinegar(simmer 750cc vinegar with spices for 15 minutes, leave to cool and filter over nuts to cover these, after15 days they are ready to eat. These will last a long time but if left too long they will lose consistency. Serving suggestions; use instead of capers or sliced and condimented with pepper,oregano,basil,paprika,onions and garlic and oil to accompany meat dishes.

    I also found a recipe for green walnut jam!!

    500g green walnuts peeled, 350g sugar, 1 stick cinnamon, 100ml water,
    5cm raw ginger peeled, 1 sweet apple peeled and chopped.
    Scald walnuts with boiling water and place in bowl of cold water, leave in water for 48 hours changeing water every 8 hours.
    Then heat 100ml water with sugar, and spices on slow heat till a light syrup is formed. Add walnuts and apple and cook 30 minutes stirring from time to time.
    Puree and fill glass jars, hermetically seal and leave upside down till cold.

    Bear in mind that I’ve not tried these recipes, the jam sounds good but first I will have to ‘catch’ my green walnuts, let me know if you try it out..

  6. I always forget people do actually grow walnut trees! I am a hopeless pickler of anything but I am looking forward to hearing how they taste in a months time.

  7. I am intrigued and look forward to finding out what your verdict is. Pickled walnuts have been on my to try list for a very long time. I don’t see why your method wouldn’t work.

  8. I just remembered those pickled walnuts. Have you tried them yet? Do you like them? Please tell!

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