A Cracking Good Nut!
- If you drive through the Dordogne in southern France you will come across walnut groves. In fact the Dordogne is the second largest producer of walnuts in France and more than half of its production is from the Périgord Noir – the area in which we live. We were recently forced to find a new airstrip for our microlight and were fortunate enough to find a suitable field close to home. Around the edge of the field and adjacent to our hangar are a number of walnut trees. Since the first of August I have watched the nuts gradually change; the hard green orbs slowly drying and cracking and eventually exposing the ripened nut.
At the green stage, around July/August, the nuts are often used to make a potent alcoholic drink. I actually learned about this many years ago from my first husband’s mother who was German. She called it Nuss-Schnaps, and swore that it was an amazing cure for any digestive problems. It is a wonderful stomach-settler: a beautiful rich brown, syrupy liqueur, with a powerful warmth. The French make a similar liqueur. The recipe is simple: just cut up twenty green walnuts and put them in a gallon jug, add sugar, leave the jar in the sun and shake every second day for eight days, then add two bottles of vodka, a cinnamon stick and five cloves. Leave for a minimum of a month – or as long as six months. Strain and bottle. The French, I’m told use eau de vie instead of vodka. Much of the eau de vie we come across is home distilled and blows your head off!
If you wander through a French farmer’s market you will nearly always be offered morsels of gateau aux noix (walnut cake), and you will see local producers selling both walnut oil and walnut vinegar – wonderful mixed together as a salad dressing.
Also bags of shelled walnuts – to save you the trouble. In the past I have bought these for my Mum’s old Boiled Cake recipe – a rich and moist fruitcake. This year, now we have our own nuts I shall have to get cracking myself.
Of course it’s not only us humans who like to harvest a nut or three. There are a variety of furred, feathered, and six-legged creatures in this area who also enjoy a nut-feast. The red squirrel, the long-tailed field mouse (wood-mouse), great-tits, nuthatches, spotted woodpeckers and jays to mention a few; a number of which come to feed at our kitchen windowsill. This year our recently collected sack of nuts will be very handy for the winter, along with the sunflower seeds which we always feed.