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The Pickled Walnuts project: stage two. Plus original recipes for spiced pickling vinegar

walnuts drying prior to picklingGood pickled walnuts are a wonderful accompaniment to strong cheese or cold meat. They are an English tradition. Often they are made with malt vinegar and can be very challenging to eat. This year I was determined to try to make the ultimate pickled walnut.

Part one of the challenge can be perused here.

After the two week saline soak (changing the solution after one week) I rinsed the walnuts and moved them down to the greenhouse to dry. This can take from 3-5 days. They turn a greyish black quite quickly. Not knowing how black the walnuts should be, I gave them a five day rest before starting the pickling process. As I had used our entire tranche of roasting trays, the pickling process had to start immediately on day five. D needed the trays to cook the Sunday roast.

Wishing to avoid expensive litigation involving claims for extensive dental repairs, I tested the walnuts for a final time. They were divided into four piles. Very soft, softish, firmish and hard. The latter were tossed immediately and the firmish will be devoured last. I’m hoping that the pickling process may soften them a little more. Next year I’ll be picking well before the end of June.

I’d researched and endlessly mulled over the recipes for my pickling spice. There aren’t a lot of pickled walnut recipes out there. I studied HFW’s one in The River Cottage Cookbook and eventually discovered this great site written by a pickled walnut fanatic back in 2005. Some of the links have died on the collection of pickling recipes. But enough had survived for me to get some pointers and the list of pickled walnuts for sale gave me a clear idea of the essential ingredient – vinegar. The rest is up to you. I did spot that many of the older recipes included garlic.

I made two pickling vinegars, one using white wine vinegar and the other cider vinegar. Very different. They both tasted good with a satisfying depth of flavour. But how will they combine with the walnuts and what will happen when they mature? Only time will tell. The results will be posted well before the start of the green walnut picking season next year.

I pulled out all the stops for these as they are my entries for Magic Cochin’s Inter Blog Great Pickled Walnut Challenge that will take place sometime in December. Meanwhile the jars are maturing on the new shelves in the barn. I’m still clearing up from the landslide disaster on rainy days. It could take some time.

The Pickled Walnuts project. Stage two

  • Having soaked your walnuts in a saline solution rinse them well in cold water and set them on non porous trays to dry. Beware setting them on plates unless you want a decoration of rows of small brown dots for ever.
  • Leave them to blacken and dry for 3-5 days. They will turn a deep, dark grey. The colour didn’t change much from the third day onwards.
  • Re test the walnuts for woodiness. Use a darning needle to prod the stalk end of the nut as this is the place where the nut casing hardens first. If the nut casing is hard, reject the nut.
  • Pack the nuts in sterilised jars leaving enough space to completely cover them with your pickling vinegar (use a ladle and funnel). Seal with sterilised plastic lined metal lids immediately.

In the end I had roughly 50 walnuts ready to be pickled and needed 2.5 litres of pickling spice to cover them. Here are my recipes.

Garlic and Tarragon spiced pickling white wine vinegar recipe

  • 1.5 litres of white wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp of mixed white, pink and black peppercorns
  • 3 tbsp of allspice berries (whole)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1.5 tsp of ground mace
  • 1.5 tsp of dried tarragon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 plump clove of fresh garlic chopped very fine
  • 3 tbsp of dark molasses sugar

Bring all the ingredients to simmering point and barely simmer for about an hour. Stir briskly and using a ladle and funnel, cover the walnuts with the hot spiced vinegar and seal the jars immediately. Leave to mature for 3 months.

Sweetish ginger spiced pickling cider vinegar recipe

  • 1.5 litres of organic cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of mixed white, pink and black peppercorns
  • 3 tbsp of allspice berries (whole)
  • 9 cloves
  • 1.5 tsp of ground mace
  • 3 level tbsp of grated fresh ginger
  • 2 plump cloves of fresh garlic chopped very fine
  • 9 tbsp of dark molasses sugar

Bring all the ingredients to simmering point and barely simmer for about an hour. Stir briskly and using a ladle and funnel, cover the walnuts with the hot spiced vinegar and seal the jars immediately. Leave to mature for 3 months.

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  1. I picked my walnuts and soaked them in plenty of time, I dreed them off in the greenhouse and I’ve just realised I haven’t put them in the vinegar – do you think it’s now too late to finish the process? it’s been at least three weeks…

  2. Denbigh Gabbitas

    Yes, I agree. It is too late, throw them away. I have been caught twice like that, just too late and I thought to keep them long enough… even when the non-hard bits have turned to mush, after a few years – the shell bits stay shell.

    Last year’s crop, here in France, were just in time, but the actual pickle liquor was not quite right and I am disappointed with them – so family and friends will get loads of jars as pressies !!!

  3. I picked some walnut at the end of July and have begun the process of soaking them in brine. I wonder if i should not have bothered this year, because they were hard inside. I wonder if soaking them would soften them? Perhaps I should abandon my attempt for this year and make sure I start in early June next year.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Sadie

      You ate too late I’m sorry to say. Nothing will make them soft 🙁 Best to wait until next year.

  4. David

    It is NOT too late this year, in fact here in England it’s the perfect time to pick, especially as it has been a very dry spring and anyone who picked mid-June before we had a decent amount of rain would have very undersized nuts. I picked 7 kg yesterday and they are in perfect condition. As long as you can get a fork into the middle they are fine – if you can’t then the shell has started to form, but you can still pickle them if you’re prepared to go through the very tedious process of removing the shell, but keeping both the nut and the green outer casing for pickling. Good luck in finding a tree!

  5. Barbra Hickey

    I just found a recipe calling for pickled walnuts. This is a whole new thing for this American cook. I grew up on farm with walnut (black) trees but all we ever did was try to collect and dry them before the squirrels grabbed them for their own use. Now, for pickling. I believe I’m understanding if you do this process early enough you can eat the nut meat inside (which, as yet, has no hard shell) AND the green outer coating? Is this correct? I could never have imagined that bitter green stuff that stained my hands so when I was a little girl would every be good for anything. I am anxious to learn about this – but seems it is too late already this year. I’ll hunt for walnut trees from which I can pick next June. Any advice will be wonderfully appreciated.


    Hi – I’v just made an apple and pickled walnut chutney using Bramley apples and the outsides of pickled walnuts where the shells had – unfortunately – become too hard! It is a bit early to tell, but after a week the chutney tastes great. I based the recipe loosely on a Gordon Ramsey’s one for Apple and walnut chutney, replacing the fresh walnuts with the pickled ones and, as with the Ramsey recipe, I added the pickled ones at the end of cooking.

  7. Pierre de la bourianne

    just tapped into this blog on pickled Walnuts. I can’t see that it’s been mentioned but an effective way to test if walnuts are ready for the pickling process is to prick them with a steralised pin while on the tree. If the pin goes in easily and smoothly then the shell has not yet started to form and you can pick it for pickling. Water normally sqirts out of the walnut also indicating you have penertrated the nut. I always pick before the middle of June at the latest.

  8. I made pickled walnuts last year. There were hard bits so had to throw them out. This year started earlier in June but don’t know the results yet. Great to have some new receipes for vinegar. Has anyone a receipe for pickled walnut chutney.

  9. Hi its a bit late in the season now and having visted a friend yesterday we have two very large bags of walnuts, they said we could take all we can carry as they have seven trees. also we got food and beer too. What nice friends we have. We really want to pickle some so we are going to shell the nuts and use the vinegar recipie above and see how it goes. i’ll try to remeber to post our results around December

  10. Forgive my ignorance on the subject, Denbigh, and I have criminally never even actually tried pickled walnuts, although I adore wet walnuts (not so keen on the dried). So although it is too late this year, I am already looking forward to making some next. And your advice and warnings on the subject are therefore hugely welcome.

    I have picked up early walnut falls, though, and looked to see what is inside. And at that stage, anyway, there hasn’t been nut development inside apparent at all, or so small it is immaterial. On the other hand, maybe not developing properly was why they had fallen in the first place. But if those were theoretically pickleable, with the walnut flavour throughout, then it is not entirely unlikely that the later casings on their own, after the nuts have been removed, could still be good. But it was only a thought, and since I have never tried the pickles at all, I certainly haven’t sampled the outer bit on it’s own to see what it’s like.

    But I absolutely concur re sloe (or variation on a theme) gin. It is fabulous! I am fortunate in that I don’t have to trawl hegderows, though, in that I have what I think are wild damsons in the garden. I am not sure that I have ever tasted what I am sure are definitely sloes, though (isn’t that terrible), so I ought to hunt some out just to check the differences.

    And sloe calvados? It would never have occurred to me! Am very curious to hear how good it is in practice.

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