Every summer the preserving season kicks off around June 24. June 24th is St. John the Baptist day and when foragers collect green walnuts for vin de noix, nocino, or more simply, walnut wine. Why June 24th? Well, that date is a good marker for harvesting walnuts when they are still soft. Walnut wine needs to be made with walnuts that are soft enough to pierce with a needle. If you get a chance this weekend, go out and look for some. Here is my recipe for vin de noix. For me, it also happens to be the time when I organize my jars, bottles, and cupboards for the busy upcoming months. Every year I realize that I make too much vin de noix. Yes it keeps, but I simply do not have the cupboard space. This recipe is a solution for too much vin de noix.
Years ago, my friend Barbara offered me a sack of walnuts. I can never say no to such offers. On my list of spring cleaning that year was processing the walnuts. My Sweeties enthusiastically offered to crack and separate all the nut meat. After an hour or so, we had a fair amount of walnut halves. On my counter, side by side, was a bowl of walnuts and 3-liter bottles of vin de noix. Voila! Walnut butter was born. Sometimes, it really is that simple.
I’ve made this many times and it either becomes a nut butter or more of a jam depending on how finely you grind the walnuts. The finer the grind, the more smoother it becomes. In either case, it is quite thick and almost a confection. It really does taste like candy and my friends fondly refer to it as “crack” because it is deliciously addictive, if you like walnuts! The addition of thyme adds a nice herbal fragrance and balances the aroma of nuts and wine. It is a great accompaniment to firm cheeses, say a Comté or Gruyère, a lovely topping on Italian cheesecake or cheesy crepes, or best of all, by the spoonful when your sweet tooth is shouting for attention.
-one pound toasted walnuts
-one pound sugar
-3/4 cup walnut wine, or a red table wine
-4 to 8 sprigs of thyme, leaves only, depending on your fondness for thyme
1. Toast the walnuts in a 350 °F oven for about 20 minutes
2. When cool, pulse the walnuts in the blender or food processor a bit at a time. What you want is small distinct bits and not a smooth mass.
3. Add all ingredients to a heavy bottom pan and cook gently until the sugar has dissolved and all the ingredients are perfectly mixed. At this point, you can turn up the heat to a gentle simmer. I cook it at a simmer for an hour, stirring often. Alternatively, you can cook it in a slow cooker.*
4. If the walnuts you are using are older and drier, they may quickly absorb the wine. In this case, you will need more wine. The goal is to have a thick spreadable butter when hot. It will stiffen up as it cools. For every ¼ cup of wine you add, add a couple tablespoons of sugar as well.
5. In the mean time, sterilize your jars and lids. One pound of walnuts will make 4 1-pint jars.
6. If you are planning on eating it soon, simply store in refrigerator as the nut oils will turn rancid. If you plan on keeping it longer, process in a hot water bath for one hour.
*I am a great fan of the slow cooker (crock pot) for making fruit butters, and in this case, the walnut butter. The low temperature plus long cooking required in making fruit butters works beautifully in the slow cooker since you don’t have to worry about watching it or it sputtering and burning you. After getting some nasty burns on my hands and arms while stirring fruit butters, I tried this method and loved it.