June 24 is St. Jean Baptiste day and it marks the beginning of the Vin de Noix making season! In France, green walnuts are picked between June 24 and Bastille Day. Vin de Noix is associated with a dear memory for me, a reminder of a lady named Nina from Belarus whom I met on a trip to Paris. For a few years I traveled to Lithuania regularly, and though it was not always my favorite place to visit, there are many wonderful things I remember from those days. The Russian Market in Vilnius, the quiet historical downtown, the bars that offered fried salted rye bread and pickled garlic as snacks. And then there was the countryside. Walking the woods, collecting mushrooms, berries, and linden blossoms. Drinking brandy and eating chocolate with friends, often. Taking a sauna once a week and then splashing cold well water on my partner. The long days of Summer. The neighbor Jadze, or Jadzhavida, straight out of a Brueghel painting. Going to another neighbor, the “milk man,” for honey, eggs, and milk. I always remember the sweetness of the woods and the buzzing of mosquitoes, always. A Europe I thought was long gone but that I was fortunate enough to witness firsthand.
Another trip led me to Paris and the Parisian banlieue in search of rye bread. A suggestion from a man who works at the Musee de l’Homme lead to Nina the Belarussian. A short train ride later found me walking down a street with perfectly manicured gardens that ended with a grove of trees and a barely visible gate. This was Nina’s house. A house she lived in for many many years and a house and garden so strongly reminiscent of the Lithuanian forest and countryside. Broken cars in the garden, buckets collecting water from the gutters, potatoes cut and waiting to root in a bowl, the same trees and plants among that urban clutter. You see, Nina left Belarus during WWII and was part of the Belarussian resistance movement in Paris, it had been over fifty years since she last saw her beloved Belarus. And as she stood under her trees and looked up at the stars, she remembered her homeland. I remember this sweet little lady sang the saddest of songs in her garden. And when it was over, this frail lady with the secret smile and curious eyes invited me in for a glass of vin de noix.
This recipe is based on a combination of sources. Partly from Mireille Johnston’s Cuisine of the Rose, from the countless times I witnessed a friend making it, and from Nina’s description.
Vin de Noix
- Green walnuts, soft enough that they can be cut
- Red wine, I prefer a Syrah for this recipe
- Turbinado sugar
- Vodka or brandy
- Walnut leaves
This recipe is based on a ratio of 10 green walnuts to one bottle of wine. And remember, this is an infusion so please don’t spend a lot on money on the wine or the vodka!
- Wash the walnuts, cut in half and place in large glass jar
- Add 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
- Add the zest of one orange
- Add one bottle of Syrah
- Add 3/4 cup of vodka or brandy
- Add the vanilla bean
- Add 4 to 5 walnut leaves
- Mix carefully, cover, and store in a cool dark place for 8 weeks, stirring occasionaly
- At the end of the 8 weeks, strain and bottle