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.