The History of the Royal Nut: The Walnut
Dating back to 7000 BC the Walnut has a long and regal history. It is the Romans who are credited with introducing and spreading the graceful walnut tree throughout most of Europe. The name English Walnut is somewhat confusing, with its other name the Persian Walnut giving a better indication of its true origins.
Whilst walnuts were introduced by the Romans from Persia, our climate changes bringing shorter winters and more sunshine are now providing perfect growing and fruiting conditions for walnut and so the name English Walnut is now more befitting than ever. The common walnut, Juglans Regia will grow happily in reasonable sized garden as long as it is planted in a sheltered position. Walnut trees do not weather frost and love the sun. So always position them in a spacious plot that is protected from Spring frost.
Although squirrels are a nuisance for stealing the nut crop they are doing their bit for walnut tree preservation as their tendency to steal nuts, bury them and forget where they are, means that new woodlands are being created.
A pickled walnut is one of those wonderful British, culinary quirks. Walnuts for pickling are harvested in late June, when they are still green and they can also be picked for making walnut schnapps at this stage. If you want nuts though you’ll have to fight off competition from crows and squirrels and harvest them in October.
There is a phrase “A woman, a dog and a walnut tree; the harder they are beaten, the better they be”, which is believed to have originated from the Continent where long poles were used for harvesting nuts.
These long poles knocked down the nuts and the dead branches, making harvesting easier and also limiting the spread of fungal infections in the tree. The beating of the tree would also have stimulated late-summer shoot formation and would have aided nut production for the following year as the walnut flowers at the tips of stems formed the previous year.
According to Ancient Greek legend during the Golden Age, the Gods lived exclusively on walnuts, whilst mortal men lived on acorns. The Romans named the walnut Juglans Regia which translates as Jupiter’s nut or Jupiters royal acorn, so the next time you decide to feast on walnuts you may want to adopt a royal pose.
For a walnut recipe that is fit for a queen Vin de Noix or Walnut wine is well worth the effort of making. It is rich, full bodied and will provide you with more warmth than a bear hug on a cold winter night.
40 young green walnuts that can be pierced with a darning needle, washed and quartered
1 litre brandy
5 litres red wine
1 kg white sugar
10 walnut leaves
Zest of 1 sweet orange
1. Pick the walnuts in late June when the walnuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Wear gloves to quarter the walnuts as they release a stain that will dye your hands and any surface it come into contact with. Place all of the ingredients in an non-reactive container with a lid. Store in a cool dark place for 8 weeks, shaking every two days.
2. After eight weeks Strain the mixture through a sterilised cheesecloth into a bowl. Bottle and store in a cool dark place for a minimum of six months, meaning it is ready to enjoy in the winter.
After trying this deep, rich drink you will truly agree with the walnuts historical claim to eminence.
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