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Category: food

vin de noix III: the sad conclusion

Sigh.

After giving it another hopeful few months, the vin de noix never really came to much. One heroic last tasting, gag reflexes at the ready, and down the drain it went.

Every bottle was different, so the recipes were varied. Yet they’re all gross. Undrinkably gross.

Vin de noix is supposed to be spectacularly delicious, with a rich brown-black color and complex flavor. Ours was several variations of grey green with a sick oily sheen broken up over the top. Like what a mechanic or sanitation worker might wring out of the cuffs of his pants in winter. And yes, we did strain it a few times along the process. It just tasted like poison, there was no complexity. Everything else in the recipes took a back seat to that single note. Blegh.

The ingredients were high quality – the vodka was top shelf (not necessary, but it was on sale), the wine was cheap but good, and the nuts were fresh, used within only a few days of being picked. The farmer who gave them to us said her mother used to make vin de noix from nuts of the same tree, so historically we should have been on the right track. The nuts seemed to be really fresh, very juicy, and the tree was just loaded with nuts, more than we could possibly use. Which is to say that the tree seemed to be fine… but the nuts were the only thing all those disgusting bottles had in common. Even the few bottles we did with VERY few nuts were like watery wine with some poison on top.

Well, that and the bottles themselves. We sterilized the milk bottles, heavy brown glass and metal caps. Maybe the nuts reacted to the caps? Who can say. We thought they were non-reactive. And we used the very same bottles and caps, on the very same day, for the vin d’orange, which turned out just fine.

When I taste (or even smell or look at!) the vin de noix, it’s clear to me that it is, in fact, poison. Really. So my favorite possibly ridiculous theory is that these are black walnuts, which contain the poisonous substance “juglone” in the green rind (which we of course used) and leaves but are perfectly safe to eat when fully ripe.

Either that or the tree just had a bad year, because I could not find anything online about not using black walnuts in vin de noix. I’m not sure I’ll try again on the same tree… maybe I can find another tree this year.

vin d’orange (sort of)

After my walnut liqueur-making extravaganza, I had a few ingredients left over; oranges, cinnamon sticks (which I actually didn’t wind up using at all), a vanilla pod, not quite a full bottle of cheapish white wine and a little vodka. I remembered that I’d seen a recipe for Vin d’Orange while I was researching the walnut liqueur, but I had no idea where and I wasn’t about to go looking since I knew I had the wrong kind of orange, anyway (mine were sweet juice oranges, but you’re supposed to use bitter Seville oranges).

I did remember that the basic recipe was similar to that of the walnut liqueur, so I decided to wing it and just make an unofficial version with my leftovers. It will hopefully make a great aperitif. Right now, after having sat around for 2 days, it tastes like acid. Gack.

Here’s what it looks like: just a bunch of orange pulp up at the top.

I didn’t measure anything, but it looked like just under 2 cups of vodka, a few oranges (peel and all), and 3/4 cup of white sugar. I threw it all into the blender along with an extra peach I had lying around, pulsed it a bit (too much, probably), and then added that to my sort of shrimpy little vanilla pod and a cinnamon stick along with the better part of a bottle of white wine. I tasted it “raw” before I added the wine and it was surprisingly yummy just then. I’ll let it all sit around for to 20/40 days and filter it really well when I also filter the vin de noix and see how it turns out. I still haven’t checked my proportions so I have no expectations.

Hopefully this one will accidentally turn out. We’ll see!

vin de noix part II

(This entry contains the actual recipe I used. Vin de Noix Part I deals with getting the actual nuts.)

Ooooo am I excited to try this out at last!

I had my first taste of Vin de Noix at an organic bed and breakfast in northern France, sitting in front of the fire with my man on an autumn afternoon. The proprietor, originally from the south, proudly took out the special bottle of secret recipe from his grandfather and, though I definitely had my doubts about this thick almost tar-like mahogany-colored syrup he was pouring out for us, as soon as I tasted it, I fell absolutely in love and just had to try to make it myself. So, here I am in Berlin with a bagful of green walnuts.

There are loads of recipes online, but a decent standard recipe that seems to achieve good results across the board is this one below, adapted from William Rubel and Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook. You can mix and match with whatever you prefer or have on hand (once you actually get a hold of the green walnuts, of course), and decide for yourself whether you want to feature the wine or feature the liquor. I decided to try a few each way and see how it turns out when all is said and done. Anything that winds up too strong can be diluted with wine.

Green walnuts stain! Wear gloves. Seriously, they really turn everything black. Be prepared to make a royal mess, generally speaking. It’s messy, messy business.

Vin de Noix (French Green Walnut Liqueur)

For a recipe that features wine (as opposed to liquor) in one big batch, you’ll need:

  • around 40 young walnuts, rinsed and quartered (warning! some insist it absolutely must be an odd number walnuts!!! I don’t know what happens if you use even numbers. Something terrible, most likely. I used an even number).
  • 1 liter alcohol such as brandy, marc, eau de vie, a mild rum, or vodka — some even use grain alcohol like Everclear, but this yields, not exactly surprisingly, a much stronger result.
  • 5 liters drinkable but not pricey red wine, or even a full bodied white Burgundy to top things off. I’m trying some with white, some with red. There’s a great cheapo red in Germany that is perfect for this (Dornfelder), but finding a good cheap white was a little harder because Riesling would be all wrong for this.
  • 1 kg sugar. I’m also doing a few bottles with maple syrup.

One or more of the following are often added, but are optional:
– 12 walnut leaves.
– Zest of 1 orange or lemon.
– 4 to 8 cloves.
– 2 vanilla beans.
– 2 cinnamon sticks.
– 1 T. Szechuan peppercorns (to each his own!).
– 1 star anise.
– 3 tsp. dust from the rainbow colored poops of a pygmy unicorn.
– just kidding about that last one.

Note on proportions: You can also choose to make a smaller amount, and measure out per bottle, like what I did. I averaged 6 walnuts per 1.5 liter bottle, adjusted the other ingredients accordingly (1 tsp peppercorns, 1/3 vanilla bean, 2 cloves, etc.). Regarding vodka to wine ratio, I tried it a couple different ways because I really wasn’t sure, myself, what I’d prefer. Most bottles were 50:50, but a few were 25:75 and v/v.

Directions:

1. Pick the walnuts in late June when the walnuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Place all of the ingredients in an 8 quart (8 liter) non-reactive container with a lid, like a large glass jar, but don’t seal it up airtight; it needs a little air to oxidize and turn its characteristic dark rich brown. Store the mixture in a cool dark place (some insist on a sunny bright place, but I’m going to go for cool and dark, myself) for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking or stirring occasionally. You can taste it now and again to check, but it probably won’t taste like much until around day 40. If you are using spices, you might want to check a bit sooner and remove anything that threatens to take over the flavor.

2. By day 40 or so, the vin de noix will be considerably darker. Give it a taste and adjust the sugar if you want the drink to be sweeter (adding simple syrup might be easiest). Filter it through a cheesecloth, bottle it, label it with the year and store in a cool dark place until the cold weather! It will keep developing for years.

You definitely don’t need to use fancy ingredients. Most people use a big covered ceramic or glass bowl or other container for the initial storage time. We decided to use a bunch of very very very clean milk bottles. After they’re filtered, they’ll get poured into prettier bottles for gifts and storage.

I decided to put big ugly labels on each bottle because the ingredients and proportions for each were slightly different and I want to know exactly which recipe works best for next time. This will give me room to scribble tasting notes later, too.

Some insist the batch has to sit in garden prior to filtering, others prefer shade. We decided to keep them in the kitchen in an accessible little corner where we could easily shake them every so often and take peeks.

For the one clear bottle we have, I used a white wine mixture, below. It should be interesting to see the color develop over time. So here’s Day 1!

My first check will be in 20 days, to make sure the spices are on the right track. I’ll definitely post an update so be sure to check back if you’re curious about how it turns out.