Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hail to the Tannins......

My baby English Black walnuts growing away. Between me laying in my hammock below while La Quita my near tame PREGNANT Squirrel(she's a floosey I can't control) loads up on these tender green morsels.
My grand plan this season is one with two countries in mind.....To Make batches of Nocino and jars of Pickled walnuts. A little bit country a little bit Roman. So here I patiently wait for another week or two while the tannin filled green cocoons are still intact.
I'll get back when the time is right, I just wanted to whet your appetite for what's to come. A little Liqueur to go with a Charcuterie Terrine studded with this English delight. Behold the tannins and rope them into submission I say!
Ok enough procrastination my Dragons Lace seedlings are glaring at me, time to plant .....good day from the GHETTO VINEYARD in the SKY

OK I'm back and have alot to report...so hang tight and learn a little bout this hard nut to crack the WALNUT. Now as you know there is history lesson we need to cover before we get in the nut and pickle her.

In the early 1800's Spanish Franciscan monks established missions along the California coast. Part of their taming of the natives included the cultivation of food, plants, trees and fermentation(wine baby wine)  in the areas surrounding the missions. One area that eventually became the city of Walnut, California, was home to the San Gabriel Mission named for the Gabrielino Indians, originally of Shoshone origin. Many acres of walnut trees, originally brought from Spain, were planted here and became known as "mission walnuts." These first walnut trees produced small nuts with very hard shells. Good to have a mighty farm truck to run them over to get at the meat...just sayin.Walnut
During the first half of the 1800's, land grants of several acres were issued, and ranchos were established. Walnut groves became well established on these land grants by the1870's in Southern California near Santa Barbara.
In 1867 Joseph Sexton, a horticulturist, initiated California's first commercial walnut enterprise when he planted a grove of English walnuts in Goleta, a small town in Santa Barbara County. Within a few years, 65% of all fertile land in this region was planted with Sexton's English walnuts.
In spite of this early success, by the late 1930's the commercial walnut business was destined to move northward to Stockton, California, where improved irrigation, better pest control, ideal climate, and rich soil were more conducive to larger yields.
Today, the California walnut has found its ideal home in the center of the state, an area that produces 99% of the commercial United States walnut supply which is odd to me, I grew up in Fresno a nary a walnut tree did I spy.. On the global market, California produces two-thirds of the world's supply of walnuts. Other countries that grow commercial walnuts include Turkey, China, Russia, Greece, Italy and France.
Though the first walnuts to arrive in the United States came from Spain in the early 1800's, the French contributed many of their varieties during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Ofcourse the French wanted a piece of the action.

La Quita spying on us while we picked the green nuts....she was chattering away about my cat Oscar Wilde having a mad crush on my surley Old English Speckled Hen Aunt Sponge..humph who'd a thunk. K back to history of das Nut.
So anyhoo let's back up a touch and get a bit of sense of how this baby has all sorts of cultures claiming the walnut as thier own. The walnut has a very hard shell and lasts for several months without much thought or care making it a perfect travel snack for the Neolithic traveler(not the Irish type in a caravan)thus showing up in the Himalayas, Persia(claims origin) Turkey, Shanidar caves of Iran and was also found in an ancient shit pile in Switzerland. Alrighty then. The Greeks clain first to cultivate but failed . Small nuts with small oil yeild.Persians did much better. Same period in Perigord France petrified Roasted shells have been unearthed. Traveling nut she was.....
Point being this mighty one was all over in a very short peiod of time and was highly regarded...Persian Walnut were only consumed by the royal family and in 2,000BCE tablets were discovered with great details of the Mesopotamian (Iran)Gardens of Babalons large walnut groves....
ok enough I'm bored too.

From Baklava to Nocino there is a plethora of varied cuisines that feature the walnut. I'm going to my roots for this easy recipe to pickle the young nuts. But before we gotta fight the mighty tannins
File:Tannic acid.pngSo there it is through the eyes of a chemist.
Tannins are a large astringent (meaning it tightens pores and draws out liquid)with proteins.

When you apply ( cant get this sentance to jive sorry)
tannins  to your skin you can instantly see the skin contract. Put them in your mouth and your cheeks pucker. Medicinally, tannins are used to draw irritants out of your skin such as the venom from bee stings or poison oak. Next time you get stung, pull some fresh bark off the twig of a nearby tree, chew it up and apply it to the sting. The irritation will go away within seconds. Tannins are also applied to burns to help the healing and to cuts to reduce bleeding.
Another every day interaction with tannin is in tea (from the tea plant....not herb teas). The tradition of adding milk to tea has the added benefit of causing the tannins to bind to the proteins in the milk rather than to the proteins in your liver and kidneys. When you drink tea without milk, you are literally tanning your insides.
Tannins occur in nearly every plant from all over the world, in all climates. It is found in almost any part of the plant, from root to leaves, bark to unripe fruit (ever bitten into an unripe persimmon?). Algae, fungi and mosses do not contain much tannin. Many plants don't contain a useful amount of tannin.Most trees contain plenty of tannin. It is concentrated in the bark layer where it forms a barrier against microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria (when hides are stuck into tannin baths the bacteria are also killed).


Pick the walnuts whilst they are still green and the outer shell is still soft. Most recipes say that June is about the best time to pick them yet this slow to start season has my trees a little behind the nut. We picked the first day of July and there was alot less nuts than I had expected Mother Nature will do as she very well pleases.... The soft shelled walnuts are then soaked in a BRINE (salt water)  salty enough to float an egg and change brine with fresh every five days for up to 12 days. The walnuts are then drained and left to dry in the air(top of my hot tub is a great place but the squirrels just think Ive left scooby snacks so I keep the nuts in a chicken wire basket with a mesh lid to keep the snackers out. . The fluid(tannic acid) in the walnuts causes a chemical reaction to take place and the walnuts turn dark brown to black in colour. The now black walnuts are then placed into jars and a PICKLING solution poured over them. This can vary from a straight forward pickling VINEGAR to a solution containing spices and sugar. The walnuts are sealed and then left in the jars for anywhere between 5 days and 8 weeks depending on which recipe is followed.

Vague I know......6% white vinegar is best and traditionally clove,  ginger,cinnamon, are the classic. I use pink peppercorn, one star anise,one stick of cinnamon, a few pods of cardomon and a bay leaf . The ammounts is up to your taste and  understanding of each spice. Clove or Anise tread lightly yet cinnamon likes to party. Fresh ginger vs dried will bring different atributes as well. For a batch with 10- 8oz jars filled with nuts .......vinegar to fill, 1 star anise, 1 stick of cinnamon, pinch of cardomon, pinch of pink peppercorn and a bay leaf last  3T. sugar. Heat this party up to get the flavours rollin and bring to a boil then fill jars. Seal and put them up.....

Wait ohh wait you will. By Thanksgiving the pickles should be begging off the shelf for a soire'e of cured meats, cheeses and all things fall...nmeat pies, terrines and Bourbon.

Thats my story and I'm stickin to it....

Now the 40 yes 40 gallons of five types of plumb juice needs to surrendered into my plumb lavendar jelly, Persian compote,butter and ice cream(reward for boy racer and all his help). The beauty of living in the most wasteful of societies is there is tons of fruit who have lived out thier life looking pretty on a tree in a suburban hood just waiting for me to glean.



Karen @ My Pantry Shelf said...

Awesome. My grandmother always made pickled walnuts and I loved them. I have scoured her cookbooks and notes but have never found a recipe. Thanks for the insight.

smoking whisk said...