Since getting involved with the National Juglans Collection at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, I’ve become fascinated with all things walnut. For instance, did you know that:
- In China, particularly Beijing, the nuts are traditionally used in finger or hand exercises (finger dexterity being linked with mental acuity).
- The Greeks refer to walnuts as karyon, or “head,” probably because the shell resembles the human skull and the kernel bears a resemblance to the brain.
- The Romans were rather more basic with their association, consecrating the walnut tree to Jupiter, and calling the nuts “glands of Jupiter” (condensed to juglans). This gave rise to the walnut’s scientific name, Juglans regia, literally, “royal nut of Jupiter.”
- Again in China, large amounts of money can change hands to obtain or gamble on obtaining symmetrical pairs of nuts.
- Walnuts are among the most nutritious of all nuts and contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals.
- Walnuts contain high amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids (also known as ALA), which promote heart health, brain function and help lower blood pressure.
- Walnut trees (particularly J. nigra) produce a growth inhibitor – juglone – that has a detrimental effect on other species of plant growing nearby. As early as Roman times Pliny noted the poisoning effect of walnut trees on “all” plants.
Apart from all of that though … as a kid I loved the sweet treats called Walnut Whips. (They are not as common nowadays and, as of a couple of years ago, may not even contain walnuts!!), so I was happy to discover in my research that there is such a thing as sweet walnut preserve.
Sweet walnut preserve is a popular, traditional product in places like Armenia and Iran, made with young green nuts, before the inner shell is developed and hard. But in the UK, while it doesn’t seem to be too hard to get hold of a jar of pickled walnuts in your local deli, it is impossible to get hold of sweet preserved green nuts. What’s a girl to do other than resorting to making her own?
Start by peeling the English walnuts
Picking the nuts at the right time for this experiment/recipe requires collecting the nuts in mid to late June. (You should be able to push a knitting needle or skewer through the whole thing without obstruction). June harvesting has the major advantage that the squirrels haven’t thought about raiding the trees yet, so there should be plenty to choose from (unless the crop was hit by late frosts).
So this year I gathered a couple of dozen nuts in the first few days of July. OK, I admit that this was late and that I had forgotten all about walnuts until then. As a consequence I had to throw a few tough nuts away.
Then I had to find a recipe. Eventually I selected this one by Jason Menayan because it is easy to follow and detailed. I didn’t end up using pickling lime, although I did order some online. However, since I have never bottled anything before I ended up confused about concentrations. Then I read about possible cases of botulism from misuse and I decided it was safest not to bother with it. Consequently my finished glacé walnuts may be a little softer than a traditional preserve.
The peeled walnuts are soaked in cold, fresh water for nine days. I rinsed twice daily.
Gradually the walnuts darken
After nine days, you cook the walnuts, once in water and then in syrup
The other difference here to Jason’s recipe is that, being in England, I’ve used English or Persian walnuts (J. regia) not Black walnuts (J. nigra).
I am not able to compare my preserve with anything else, but that wasn’t really the point and six weeks after completion I have just tried a couple walnuts and I can say that they are good. I suppose that they are similar in taste and texture to marrons glacés.
They are very nice in fact and I can see that they would go wonderfully with cheese as an appetizer and certainly imagine some topping creamy vanilla ice cream, with a little of their syrup, as great stylish dessert.
Sounds like I must plan a dinner party. What fun!