Nocino, an old walnut liqueur recipe from Modena

The Nocino is an ancient liqueur recipe that is made in June, in occasion of the summer solstice.

Nocino, a green walnut Modena liqueur

June, the month of the summer solstice.

Although the solstice falls on the 21st, the longest day of the year, rituals celebrated in the countryside have always given great importance to the 24th, St John’s Day, believing that night is magical.

The rural celebrations linked to the solstice are based on previous pagan rituals.
For example, the tradition of night bonfires to drive away demons and darkness dates back to an ancient, pre-Christian tradition.

Another tradition linked to St John is that of the bunch of flowers and herbs.
On the evening of the 24th, a bunch is prepared and placed in a large plate full of water, which is then left outdoor to collect the night’s dew, the so-called ‘guazza di San Giovanni’ (St John’s dew), which is said to have healing effects.

The same dew that during the night covered all the plants and fruits of the fields. Even the husks of unripe walnuts.

Nocino liqueur recipe

Nocino, the “spirit” of San Giovanni. 

Since ancient times, legend tells of witches gathering around the walnut tree.
But the harvesting of the walnuts on the days of the solstice has to do with the ripening phase of the walnuts: they are still immature but already formed and covered with a green shell that is still tender. At this time, they are perfect for making nocino liqueur, as Italian food writer Artusi mentions in his brief introduction to the recipe n. 750 – Nocino.

Climate change is impacting on growing and ripening processes of traditional fruit trees. That is why the harvest is a bit early. But there is an old method to know if the green walnuts are ready: you should be able to stick a needle or pin into the green husk.
If it goes through, the nuts are ready. And you don’t run the risk of getting a green, bitter liqueur. Nocino has a dark color and a rich flavor.

The historical origin of the recipe.

They are ancient and somewhat uncertain.
Of possible French origin, it may even date back to the Britons.

In Italy, the recipe is known in the Modena area since the 16th century.
The first written version refers to a walnut ratafià that appeared in 1766 in a text The Piedmontese Cook perfected in Paris, written by an anonymous cook.

The production of a liqueur called by its current name, Nocino, dates back to the period between 1860 and 1867 when Ferdinando Cavazzoni, a confectioner at ‘Casa Molza’ included the recipe for ‘Liquore noto (called) Nocino’ in his recipe book dedicated to Modenese specialities.

Traditional recipes of Emilia-Romagna

Traditional recipes of Emilia-Romagna

My first Nocino.

A year ago, for the first time, Guido and I prepared walnut liqueur following one of the home recipes. In Emilia-Romagna, the preparation of this liqueur is very common and I grew up watching and helping with the preparation of digestives, juices, syrups of all kinds.

What I didn’t remember is how dangerous green walnuts are to your hands.
Don’t forget the gloves: the husks dye. In comparison, artichokes are a joke.
My husband’s hands were stained for a whole week.

Every home recipe is different.
Some people add some spices and some other ones; or more or less sugar; some people move or even stir the contents of the jar during the boozy infusion, while others are wary of touching it.

I’ll give you the home recipe that I tried. I made a few bottles from it, which I stored in my pantry and gave as gifts for Christmas.

Nocino has a dark color which reminds me of dark chocolate. It has a sugary but strong flavor. Serve it after dinner as a digestive or as an invigorating drink to warm up on cold winter evenings. In summer, add a lemon peel and an ice cube.

With this liqueur, I make excellent walnut biscuits.

Buona cucina, Monica

How to make San Giovanni’s bunch.

Depending on where you live, the blooms change, and therefore the composition of the bouquet may change. Of course, you can also personalize it by choosing herbs and flowers according to their meaning or properties.

Let’s say that hypericum, called St John’s wort, is a must.
At your choice, compose with lavender, mugwort, rosemary, mallow, yarrow, garlic, rue, fern, or mint. The bunch should consist of 6 to 9 herbs.

On the evening of the 23rd, immerse the bunch in a bowl of water, then leave it outside to catch the night’s dew. The next morning rinse your face with that water: it protects against diseases and makes the skin bright and fresh.

Buona cucina, Monica

Cook with me

My family traditionally buys a certain amount of walnuts that must be enough for one year. Grandma used to make delicious walnut cookies. In the dough, she would add a little nocino. You can find the recipe here.

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Green walnuts

Nocino liqueur recipe


for some bottles
Ingredients


green walnuts, about 30
1 l of alcohol95%
sugar, 700g
natural water, 700ml
rind of 1 half of lemon
cinnamon sticks, 2
cloves, 10

You need 2 liters jar with lid


Directions


Make a syrup melting the sugar in hot water and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, put on rubber gloves and cut the walnuts into 4 parts.

Put the walnuts in the jar, add the alcohol, sugar-water syrup and flavorings.

Close tightly and leave to rest for 40 days in the dark.

Shake the jar every week. The sugar tends to crystalise and end up at the bottom: shake the jar energetically or stir with a spoon.

After this time, taste it, if it seems too strong, add more water before filtering with a sieve and making some bottles.

Leave to rest for a few months in the pantry.

Homemade Nocino recipe

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