I have had about a liter of nocino waiting to fully age since September and today is the first day I've tried it, though it should steep for another month. The flavor is already deep and a bit sweet and slightly winter spiced. The idea is to sip tiny drams after a meal to aid digestion. Green walnut hulls are also made into medicinal tinctures in much the same way to rid the body of parasites. Soaking herbs, roots, bark or walnut hulls in alcohol is a way to extract and preserve their healing properties. So, as with most European cordials, you get to double your pleasure- a tasty after dinner treat that's also medicinal.
I was able to harvest the green walnuts in early September when they were about the size of a golf ball. At this point the hard brown shell has not yet formed and the meat inside is still gelatinous. Keep checking the walnut trees at the end of summer to see if they are ready. One recipe I read said that the nuts are collected in late July, but here in Oregon, the nuts were not ready until September. I got lucky because the electric company sent out a tree trimming crew to cut branches back so I was able to pounce on the walnuts on the ground without having to get a ladder out in the street. A Portlandia episode was being filmed a few houses down and when I explained to the tree crew what I was doing with the nuts I was gleaning from the neighbor's trees, they sort of rolled their eyes and muttered that I should be in the next skit.
Warning, green walnut hulls are also processed into ink. Anything the walnuts or liqueur touch from beginning to end of the process will be stained a golden brown color since the walnuts almost immediately start to oxidize into a dark, almost black color. Use plastic gloves to handle the walnuts and always have something that you don't care about staining to work on and keep under the jar- such as an old plastic cutting board. I specified English walnuts because we also have Black Walnut trees on our block which are an indigenous American tree. While the trees are beautiful and have many fine, but messy qualities, I think that the taste would be completely different than when using the much milder English walnuts.
30 or so immature English walnuts
1 liter of vodka (or other high test clear alcohol such as Everclear)
3 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
2 sticks of cinnamon
zest of one lemon
Step one: Gather about 30, or a colander's worth, of green English walnuts before their internal brown shells have hardened and the meat has solidified. On a cutting board that you don't care about, while wearing plastic gloves, quarter the nuts with a sharp knife and toss them into a large widemouth glass container. You will be shaking the liqueur daily- or whenever you remember to, so leave a few inches of headspace. I had to transfer mine to a larger container with a tighter fitting lid.
Step two: Add water, sugar, spices and lemon zest.
Step three: Leave tightly covered jar in a dark place for 3 months. Some recipes call for shaking or turning the jar every day. I kept the jar in a place that I pass on my way to the basement and every once in a while, I'd give the jar a good shake or swirl to help the sugar dissolve.
Step four: After 3 or 4 months, strain liqueur through a coffee filter into a pretty bottle. Some recipes say you can steep the nuts again if you retain the hulls and spices. Drink cold in tiny, dainty glasses during the cold winter months or whenever your children have come home from school with worms (again).