Harvesting walnuts and soaking them in brine……

freshly gathered green walnuts

As I mentioned the other day, there’s a big walnut tree very near to where we live, most of the walnuts are far too high up for me to reach but as I’m quite tall I was still able to stretch up and gather a couple of dozen to pickle.

Pickled walnuts seem to be something that older generations like or remember…they used to be part and parcel of a really good ploughman’s lunch, a hefty piece of a cob bread or cottage loaf, some strong cheese, a good sized dollop of homemade chutney or pickled walnuts and an apple (often a little wrinkly but no less tasty)…none of this baguette with slices of cheese that seem almost transparent with a daintily arranged salad as a garnish with chutney and salad cream in tiny plastic tubs malarky…(sorry have to have a bit of a rant here…some years ago a lovely elderly couple I was friends with took me out for lunch at a nice pub and we all had a ploughman’s…what we got was not what any of us were expecting…so disappointing as it was all fancified with french bread we all had trouble chewing and my teeth are still my own so gracious knows how they got on… what we wanted was something really simple and basic…anyway rant over.)

Pickled walnuts are pretty cheap to make, just some salt for a brine, and then vinegar, sugar and some spices….. I have a gentleman friend who I normally make chutney for at Christmas who I’ve found out loves them so even if no-one else cares for them at least I’ll be making one person happy.

Normally the start of August would be a bit late to be gathering walnuts to pickle. it’s more a June early July thing. but we seem to’ve had more wet days than sunny ones this Summer so the nuts are a bit slow forming….you need to be able to push a sharp skinny skewer through the nut, if you’re not sure, pick a couple and take them home, cut the walnuts in half, if the outside of the nut has started to form then it’s too late this year….but as long as there is a good layer of white inside then you’re in business.

A word of caution…walnuts make a brilliant natural dye…so good that it doesn’t even need a mordant….I’ve even seen recipes using walnuts to make hair dyes..so when you are picking and handling them you will need to wear to gloves.

I wore an attractive pair of marigold washing up gloves when I picked mine but then stupidly left them off when I was pricking them…even though there weren’t that many walnuts I’ve been left with dirty deep brown fingertips and nails…so a pair of CSI style rubber gloves will be needed (marigolds are a bit clumsy to wear when you are pricking the walnuts).

Before you pickle the walnuts they first need to be soaked for about a week in brine.

Soaking Walnuts in brine

Gather your walnuts, give them a wash and good wipe over in cold water (they’ve been run over by goodness knows how many dirty footed little squirrels)

Trim off any branchy bits that may still be left.  With a big darning needle, prick each walnut some times all over…  (this will allow the pickle to really permeate the nut)

Put the pricked walnuts into a china bowl (I used an old Mason and Cash one though if you’ve pick lots you could use a very clean plastic bucket) and cover with a brine solution of 100 g table salt to 1 litre of boiled water that has been allowed to cool.  The amount of brine you need depends on how many walnuts you have (I used 150 g of salt and 1 1/2 litres of water)

Cover and leave in a cool dark place for 4 days.

After that time, pour off the brine and soak the walnuts in another fresh brine solution for a further 4 days.

If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll like the pickled walnuts then it’s best to only pick a few, that way if on tasting you think “yeauch” it’s not the end of the world, if on the other hand you try them and think “these are wonderful” then you’ll be that much more eagle eyed next year in trying to spot any other walnut trees.

Sarah Raven, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, RIchard Mabley and Bob Flowerdew all give recipes for pickling walnuts in a lot of their books, most seem to be the same, with only slight variations.

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