Showing posts with label walnuts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label walnuts. Show all posts

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Walnuts in syrup

As I said in my recent blog post entitled Green walnuts, black hands [display], my first batch of green walnuts in sweet syrup has been put in jars and sterilized. The 10 or so jars are now labeled, and the product is ready to be eaten. It's a purely token production, of course, of a personal and experimental kind. But it might implicate local professionals in the walnut domain.

Last Sunday at midday, I invited Tineke and Serge around for lunch outside in the shade of my giant linden tree. After a Greek salad with feta, and a vaguely Greek main dish of braised chicken and mushrooms cooked with turmeric and ginger, we finally got around to tasting the walnuts as dessert. I believe I can speak for all three of us in saying that this product is delicious... and somewhat astonishing in that it doesn't seem to resemble any familiar fruit.

It's crunchy, and the walnut's inherent bitterness is replaced by the sweet aromas of cinnamon and cloves in the thick pinkish syrup.

I'm convinced that local restaurants would be capable of promoting this delicacy, if it could be produced in large quantities. An industrial producer of sweet walnuts would need to find ways and means of replacing all the tedious manual steps of my cottage-industry approach (such as peeling and piercing the fruit) by mechanized operations. And various quality-control tests would have to be carried out in a laboratory environment, as required by European laws. That, of course, is the stumbling block. I'm unaware of the existence of imaginative and daring local entrepreneurs who would be prepared to invest in the large-scale production and marketing of this foodstuff.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Green walnuts, black hands

It's the green-walnut season at Gamone.

The hard fruit, with their reptilian skin, are impregnated with a clear bitter liquid. If you start to gather these fruit without using rubber gloves, you're in for a nasty surprise. This is a photo of my left hand taken a week ago, when I started to pick green walnuts:

And here's another photo, taken this morning:

As you can see, it's worse and worse! I refrained deliberately from wearing gloves because I needed to peel the walnuts, and it's not easy to perform this operation with rubber gloves. Furthermore, I had to stick a metal spike through each walnut, both vertically and horizontally. Here's a saucepan full of peeled and spiked walnuts, soaking in water, after a couple of days in the sun:

On the Internet, there are all kinds of tales about, say, such-and-such a young couple who had spent an afternoon gathering green walnuts just a few days before their marriage... and they turned up at the church looking as if they'd just been using their bare hands to assemble a greasy old automobile engine. You see, once the walnuts have tattooed your hands in shiny black, there's no way of getting your hands back to normal. You simply have to live with your affliction until it wears off, about a fortnight later.

Funnily, though, various individuals on the Internet offer all kinds of remedies (all of which turn out to be totally false) for eliminating instantly the black stains. Common suggestions are bleach (a solution of sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide) and lemon juice. Somebody said that common cooking oils would get rid of the stains, and there was even a woman who said that the miracle product was toothpaste.

Now, why have I been gathering green walnuts? Well, as I explained in a blog post two months ago [display], I'm experimenting with a Greek Cypriot recipe for fresh walnuts preserved in sweet syrup. The precise description of this product (both in English and in French) is quite complicated, as I would have to mention the fact that the walnuts were picked when they were green and soft, whereas they soon turn black, and that the preservation process involves lots of boiling in syrup. Then I should maybe explain that the little brown blobs floating around in the dark syrup between the black walnuts are roasted almonds and cloves. For the moment, I think I'll refer to this product, from now on, simply as sweet walnuts (noix sucrées in French).

I'm currently preparing a second batch. Ten days ago, the walnuts in the first experimental batch were smaller and softer, and I spiked them first and started to soak them in the sun before peeling them.

Today, I conclude that it's preferable to peel the green walnuts from the very start. One of the aspects of the Greek Cypriot recipe that worried me a little, when I first saw it, was their advice to soak the walnuts, in the central phase of the preparation, in a quicklime solution. After all, quicklime is a most noxious chemical product, and the idea of using it during foodstuff processing appeared to me as somewhat weird.

In reality, this phase of the operations turned out to be unimpressive. Soon after the quicklime (in a cloth bag) is placed in a basin of water holding the walnuts, the calcium oxide is transformed rapidly into harmless calcium hydroxide, with a certain effervescent emission of heat (which I did not try to observe at close range). And it's a fact that the walnuts had a nice look and feel after this quicklime treatment.

From that point on, the processing consisted of boiling the walnuts, many times, in a dense solution of sugar, with a little lemon juice. I also assembled a few extra ingredients: almonds, cinnamon and cloves.

First, I roasted the white almonds in the oven for about 10 minutes. Then I added these ingredients to the walnuts in their syrup, and boiled up everything once again... until the syrup got thick. Fortunately, I have a powerful gas range for high-temperature cooking of this kind.

The big stainless steel cooking vessel is perfect for boiling the syrup and walnuts. Finally, I filled 10 jars with walnuts, covered them with syrup, and piled them up inside the sterilizer. Incidentally, I had taken advantage of a moment when the syrup was still cool to eat a walnut, both to verify that the product tasted fine (it certainly did), and also to verify that it wouldn't make me ill (it didn't, of course).

I filled up the sterilizer to the brim with water, placed the thermometer inside, and brought it to boiling point on the gas range.

The sterilization process necessitated what seemed to be an amazingly long period of intense boiling: 2 hours! All that remains, now, is to label the 10 jars. Then I'll carry out a tasting, with friends, as soon as possible. Between now and then, I need to learn how to cook some kind of Mediterranean honey-based pastry, to accompany my sweet walnuts.

Monday, May 13, 2013

First signs of forthcoming walnut season

Yesterday, I discovered the first visible signs at Gamone of the forthcoming walnut season.

This year, I intend to try out a totally new recipe: fresh walnuts preserved in sweet syrup. It appears to be a Greek Cypriot specialty. The product is marketed on the web.

Here are a couple of photos of the product that I found on the web:

These images suggest that the product—referred to as glyko karydaki in Greek—has much the same appearance and texture as my familiar pickled walnuts made with malt vinegar. I've found a clear and complete recipe [here] from a Cypriot lady, Ivy Liacopoulou. I've told her that I intend to use her recipe, and she has kindly provided me with further advice concerning the importance of thickening the syrup, which plays a vital role in the preservation of the product.

In Ivy's recipe, there's an intriguing "ingredient": quicklime. I've put the word "ingredient" in inverted commas because powdered calcium oxide is merely used at one stage in the lengthy preparations in order to keep the walnuts firm. But the toxicity of this dangerous substance will have long disappeared, of course, by the time the walnuts become edible.

Natacha and Alain were the first people to inform me of the existence of such walnuts, which they had discovered at the Greek-Armenian Edykos restaurant in Aix-en-Provence.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Not the answer

Last October, in a blog post titled Walnut harvest [display], I spoke with enthusiasm of a promising solution for storing my annual walnut harvest, using light-weight plastic containers that can be folded flat when empty.

[Click to enlarge]

I filled the containers with walnuts, sealed the carrying slots with tape, and placed them in my stone-walled cellar. Well, it turned out to be a totally unsatisfactory solution. The other day, when I thought about preparing a walnut cake, I was shocked to find that last year's stock of walnuts had been reduced to a few empty shells. I have the impression that Fitzroy, too, was disgusted by the mess.

At first sight, I couldn't understand how unidentified rodents had succeeded in entering the containers, and apparently carrying away most of the walnuts. The tape blocking the carrying slots was intact, and the top of the upper container had been covered. When I looked more closely, I soon discovered what had gone wrong. The mysterious rodent(s) had simply gnawed through a few thin plastic bars... in the classical style of a jail inmate escaping from his cell.

Once this hole existed, it was an easy matter for the rodent family to feast upon the walnuts, and to carry them away to their secret lair.

Maybe a high-tech solution might consist of inventing rodent-proof plastic. But the right stuff exists already: it's called steel. So, goodbye flimsy plastic! That's to say, between now and my next walnut harvest, I intend to design and build the perfect walnut container: a kind of steel mesh cage with sturdy drawers made of slats of wood (for the aeration). I assure you, it will be a masterpiece!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Walnut harvest

As usual, I've harvested a sufficient quantity of walnuts for my personal needs, which consist primarily of making walnut bread.

Stocking walnuts at Gamone has always been a problem, since certain unidentified furry creatures—maybe Alpine field mice—find their way into the cellar and steal them. They gnaw into the synthetic mesh bags holding walnuts, and actually carry the walnuts away with them. Apparently, they operate silently, during the night, just a few meters away from one of my sleeping dogs, Sophia. Afterwards, all you find is the empty bag, with a big hole in it.

Walnuts can't be stored in a totally sealed container. They must be aired, otherwise they become spoiled. So, I was thrilled to discover yesterday a new folding plastic container, made in Luxembourg.

I'll need to glue in pieces of flat plastic to patch up the two big slots in each crate, and I'll also have to insert a lid on the top crate in the stack.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Grapevines and walnut trees

In my article of 20 November 2010 entitled Wine of a kind [display], I evoked the Herbemont variety of US grapevines, which was one of the six varieties imported into France towards the end of the 19th century, for grafting in the hope of halting the catastrophic Phylloxera invasion. Here at Choranche, cunning landowners got around to using this Vitis americana plant, not for grafting, but to make a would-be "wine", as if it were a genuine variety of Vitis vinifera, which it was not. Today, the production of beverages from these six American "grape weeds" (Herbemont, Noah, Clinton, Jacquez, Isabelle and Othello), thought to be unfit for human consumption, is prohibited by law, and has almost ceased to exist. On the other hand, French authorities concerned with varieties of grapevines informed me last year that they know next to nothing about the exotic Herbemont plant, and they would like to inspect the specimens growing (apparently) at Gamone. I promised them that I would make an effort to prevent my donkeys from devouring the precious vines. So, I fenced of the area where Hippolyte Gerin, half a century ago, planted his famous Herbemont. Here's a first resurgence of the delicate reddish Herbemont leaves:

There are a dozen or so visible plants, and I've started to clean up the ground around some of them:

Meanwhile, the walnut trees of Gamone have donned themselves in colorful leaves, as if to welcome the warmness.

Sometimes, I think of my humble walnuts, not as trees, but as clockwork machines. They obey the seasons precisely, minutely, as if they were programmed… which, of course, they are, like everything else in the Cosmos.

Their hues are tender and fleeting, like the warm phantom of Spring that has deigned to move over Gamone. They are old, too, my Gamone walnut trees… like me. I love and respect them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fruit season

Sophia's religious convictions surely pass through her belly. At this time of the year, she's certain that God exists, and that He has placed her in a land of plenty, at Gamone, where tasty delicacies such as apples and walnuts fall from the heavens.

My fig trees are still too young to bear fruit, but the next best thing to having your own fig trees is living alongside a neighbor whose fig trees have a plentiful yield... especially when the neighbor in question is not, himself, keen on figs. That's the case with Bob.

I wander up to Bob's place every afternoon to bring back a plate of excellent figs. Sophia, too, has become very keen on over-ripe figs that fall from Bob's trees.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walnut wine

This afternoon, I started to prepare this year's walnut wine.

According to the traditional recipe for walnut wine, one should start to gather green walnuts after the feast-day of Saint John, which falls on June 24. Up here on the slopes of the Vercors, the fruit mature more slowly than down in the Isère valley. Today was the limit, though, because the wood of the future nut shell is starting to form.

I've figured out that, inside my plastic cask, there should be room for the walnuts in the wire basket and about three dozen liters of red wine. In fact, I use a volumetric ratio of 7:2:1 for wine, walnuts and (later) alcohol. More precisely, my intention is to macerate ten liters of walnuts in 35 liters of wine.

To measure out the chopped-up walnuts, I used an aluminium jug (in fact, a Greek implement for serving a liter of retsina wine). I had a rubber glove on my left hand, to hold the walnut while I was cutting it into four or five fragments, but my right hand, holding the knife, remained bare. Consequently, it soon looked like this:

These ugly brown stains won't disappear for a week or so. Throughout the region, one can easily recognize fellow walnut-wine makers.

[Anecdote: The first thing I did this morning, before even thinking about making walnut wine, was to lodge an application at the mayoral office in Choranche for my first French identity card. As required by law, the secretary took my fingerprint. She would have been surprised, I imagine, to encounter the fingers of a walnut-wine producer. Maybe such fingers are so cruddy that they can't even be printed!]

Tomorrow morning, I'll drive to St-Marcellin with the cask containing the chopped-up walnuts, and I'll purchase the required coarse 12-degree wine from a specialized bulk-wine dealer. Then it's simply a matter of allowing the maceration process to take place in my cellar at Gamone for at least three months.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Walnut wine

Yesterday, I finally got around to bottling and labeling the remainder of my walnut wine. I had almost forgotten the existence of this stock of green walnuts macerated in strong red wine, which had been sitting for several years in an airtight plastic cask. It has aged remarkably well, and the resulting liquor is mellow with a delightful aroma of walnuts.