The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The Pickled Walnuts project. Stage one.

pickling walnuts“What on earth are you doing, Fiona?”
I was sitting on the floor on a large plastic sheet, wearing rubber gloves and stabbing green walnuts on an old bread board with a carving fork. No wonder Tessa was intrigued.

I’ve been desperate to get my hands on some green walnuts for years. About 10 days ago I spotted some on a friend’s tree. It was just at the end of the picking green walnuts season.
“Take all you like but hurry or they’ll be too hard to pickle.”
She picked one and sliced it firmly with a gardening penknife.
“You’re in luck, they’re still just soft enough,” she smiled. “Come in and taste my pickled walnuts. I haven’t made them for a couple of years but I know that I’ve got some in my larder.”

I knew from the wobble of her head when she produced the chunky jar that these would be good.
“The trick is to use some sugar in your recipe. Most of the commercially produced ones are far too tart. The vinegar that you choose makes a big difference too.”

We searched in vain for her recipe. Then she remembered that she lent her book to a Swedish friend who was returning to Stockholm.

So I scuttled off with a bulging carrier bag of walnuts and a lot of hope.

A quick foray on the Internet indicated that pickled walnuts are an acquired taste. The recipes are as diverse as they are rare. This was the perfect opportunity to make up my own recipe. HFW soaks his in a brine solution for a week, changing the solution every couple of days. Others soak the walnuts for a couple of weeks or so, changing the brine solution after seven days. As the walnuts were not picked until the end of July, I chose the longer soaking method.

They have soaked for a week now (with a glass saucepan lid keeping them under the saline solution – 150g of salt to each litre of water). I changed the saline solution this morning. Pouring the old solution into the bath and rinsing the bath immediately. The old solution has to be handled with care as the walnut juice stains dark brown any porous surface that it touches. Apparently, walnut juice makes a great hair dye. The only problem is that it stains your scalp too.

After the walnuts have soaked for a couple of weeks they are rinsed, packed into a jar, covered with vinegar infused with spices and left to mature. My recipe will be contained in stage two next week and reviewed around Christmas when they’ll finally be ready to eat.

I have great fun playing around with pickles and chutneys. If you get the preserving elements in place (salt and/or vinegar) you can be totally wanton with the combination of spices and create your own recipes. As preserves mature they change and usually improve, so each recipe is a long term project. Old fashioned luggage labels are invaluable for keeping notes attached to a jar.

I try to make chutney and pickles that are good to eat without a long wait. But often remember the story of the original Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, discarded and forgotten for years and then rediscovered with relish. The recipe still takes 18 months to mature.

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  1. Cyndy Buttifant

    dear George , How can I get green walnuts when its time? Cyndy

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hello George

    Thanks for this information. Much appreciated.

  3. George Latham

    Hello Fiona,
    For information, speaking as a commercial grower of pickling walnuts, the date of 21 July is regarded as the last day in the year on which you can pick walnuts for pickling….any later and the shell will have started to form.



  4. Patricia Holmes

    According to Mrs Beeton, you prick and put into wide necked bottles or jars, cover them with cold vinegar. Cover closely, let them stnd in a cool, dry place for about 4 months, then drain off the vinegar. Boil as much fresh vinegar as will cover them, with the seasonings as stated, and pour it, while boiling hot, over the walnuts. Cover closely, and store for about 3 weeks in a cool dry place.
    The ingredients are: Green walnuts, vinegar. to 3 pints of vinegar allow 1 oz of salt and 1/2 oz of all-spice, peppercorns, cloves and whole ginger.

    This recipe sounds slightly easier than brining and having to loose the brine! If anyone can tell me where I can find green walnuts (I live near Filey in North Yorks), I would be most grateful. Love pickled walnuts, and would love to make them myself.


  5. I’m too late too, so will have to wait till next year. Luckily they grow like weeds round here.

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Casalba

    You probably are a bit late for this year but next year beckons!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    Yes I accept the gauntlet tossed into the dust. A pickled walnut tasting challenge is just up our street. And why not throw sloe gin into the mix too!

    If you can chip a small inch of plaster from your walls, take it to Ridgeons in Cambridge. Ask for a Crown paint colour match with the ‘magic eye’. The Crown machine will make a perfect match. The Dulux machine matches your chip with one of ten thousand colours, so it won’t match perfectly.

    I™m a Dulux Queen but this is one area where results can be disappointing.

    Hi Pat

    You can’t make pickled walnuts with the wet walnuts (available in a month’s time. The shell needs to still be soft so late June, early July is the best time to gather the nuts.

    I think that I might have been a bit late but am willing to risk loosing a tooth when accepting Magic Cochin’s challenge for the pickle making experience…

  7. Ohhhhhhh Best of luck with them Fiona, I just love pickled walnuts, but have only had the shop bought ones. Ohhh that means it won’t be long and I can buy some green walnuts soon. YUM

  8. Kate(uk)

    I shall be interested to now how they taste. There is a huge walnut tree down the road and if they are indeed delicious, I may well experiment next year- why should the squirrels have all the fun?

  9. magic cochin

    That’s a great tip about writing the recipe on a luggage label – must remember to do that!

    How about a Pickled Walnut Tasting evening at Christmas – your walnuts v Cliff’s? He based his method on the HFW one in the River Cottage Cookbook. Might as well test some Sloe Gin too while we’re at it.

    Happy Pickling!

    PS: I now need to find some of the blue paint that matches the utility room walls – to paint over the walnut brine splashes!!!!

  10. casalba

    I love pickled walnuts and would love to try this – fear I might be too late here, though. I’ll go foraging asap. Don’t you just love the way they sort of fall open – so beautiful.

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