After some heavy storms early this week, we were again cursed with detritus from our neighbor’s awful black walnut tree. Sticks, branches, larger limbs, and some immature walnuts, strewn around the yard. Because black walnuts are 100 times worse than lemons, I decided to turn them into a potent, bitter drink that I hope will be 100 times better than lemonade. Nocino is a traditional bittersweet liqueur from Emilia-Romagna that combines immature walnuts with spices and alcohol.

It’s important to select only the freshest walnuts – there should be no brown spots or squirrel nibbles. English walnuts are more commonly used, but black walnuts are fine, too. This time of year, the walnuts haven’t yet formed their woody shells, and the flesh surrounding the nut is crisp and green. They’re pretty easy to slice into quarters with a heavy knife. Traditionally, nocino is made on or around June 23, so I’m just a bit ahead of the curve. As more walnuts fall over the coming weeks, I’ll add them to the jars.

For each pint jar, here’s the recipe:

11 immature Black Walnuts, halved or quartered (It’s traditional to use an odd number of nuts)
1/2 cup sugar
3 juniper berries
2 cloves
1/4 vanilla bean
zest of 1/2 large lemon in wide strips
3 allspice berries
Vodka to fill the jar (I used 80-prood Svedka)

During the next month, I’ll shake the jars once a day. The liquid will turn from clear to brown to greenish-black, and then I’ll strain out the solids and run the liqueur through a coffee filter. Over the months, the bitterness of the nocino will subside into what I hope will be a delightful sipping liqueur. I’ve also read that it’s a great addition to a batch of ice cream! My bitterness for the walnut tree, however, will never die.