On the Eve of San Giovanni, 24th of June, women all over Italy start to prepare Nocino. They climb up walnut trees at dusk, after the dew has settled on the fruit, and pick 24 of the best green walnuts they can find then leave them to rest till the next morning. The dew, on the Eve of San Giovanni, by tradition is considered a cure for all ills; the healing qualities of walnut were known even in the 500’s, evidence of which was found in the “Treasury of Health” by the famous doctor, Casto de Gualdo. In the morning the women prepare an infusion of nuts and alcohol. The concoction is left to steep in a warm place till All Saints Night, the first day of November. Then it is bottled and laid to rest in their cellars till Christmas Eve. This is the tradition of Nocino, passed down from one generation to another. It is a very good tradition that we carry on in our house as well. I being an American, am not so carefull about dates. So said, I make our Nocino on the 5th of July since in the Czech Republic July 5th and 6th are holidays allowing time to make this liqueur. Making Nocino is a very old tradition throughout Italy. The method and ingredients vary from region to region. Some people like it less sweet. I make two batches, one following the recipe and the other with half the sugar. Many recipes call for grain alcohol and water. The result is the same percentage of alcohol as the vodka I use. Vodka is plentiful and less expensive than grain alcohol in the Czech Republic. I have also made it from alcohol distilled from plumbs and alcohol distilled from apples. Personally, I think the alcohol from apples made the best.
Nocino is a dark-colored liqueur with a hint of spice, It is considered a digestive in Italy, served after a meal. The green outer layer of the walnut fruit are used medicinally. Their constituents include the tannin julandin, organic acids, and essential olds. In herbal medicine it is used mainly for stomach and intestinal disorders.
30 Green walnuts*
3 Cups sugar
1 Cup water
2 Cinnamon sticks
Rind of one lemon*
2 Litres of vodka
Cut the green walnuts in quarters lengthwise and then cut each quarter in half. Make sure you wear plastic gloves and use a plastic cutting board or ceramic plate; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as your kitchen counter. Put the walnut pieces in a wide mouth jar with a tight-fitting lid. Put the water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium. Add sugar to the water and stir until the sugar is completely desolved. Pour sugar-water over walnuts in jar and add the remaining ingredients. Cover the jar tightly and put in a warm place for two months. Remember to stir the contents of the jar at least once a week. After two months filter the nocino through a fine clothe then bottle. (Save the nuts in a jar with a tight lid. The nuts make delicious cakes and cookies.) Age the liqueur in a cool, dark place for 5 months.
- The green walnuts should be picked before the shell of the nut starts to form. We picked them at the end of June.
- The rind of the lemon is only the yellow part of the lemon without the white part. The white part is bitter and will throw off the flavor of the Nocino. Never add the whole lemon or juice to the recipe.