Very well written and packed with thorough research and lots of information. You obviously know what you are talking about and that is very refreshing. Would love to have seen some of these very old recipes you are talking about.
Contrary to popular mythology, pickled walnuts did not originate in England, or indeed anywhere in the English-speaking world. The tree itself, Jugans regia, is also mistakenly known as the English Walnut, which might explain how this misunderstanding is perpetuated. In fact, the more accurate common name for this species is the Persian Walnut, as it is this part of the world where its cultivation first began, perhaps as much as 8,000 years ago. It was in Persia, or more broadly, in south central Asia, that the tree we now know as the English Walnut was first grown as an agricultural crop, and it was very likely in this area of the world where pickling walnuts also began, about the same time. The oldest recipe I have found for pickled walnuts originated in Mazandaran, Iran in the ancient mists of time. On the slopes above the Caspian Sea, in tiny villages below the Elburz Mountains, walnuts are picked green in mid-summer, soaked for a lunar cycle in brine from the Caspian, rinsed thoroughly, then cooked to perfect tenderness in an open vat of honey, with fresh ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg added for flavour. This mid-summer treat was eaten "hot from the pot" as a village festival finger food, and enjoyed by young and old alike. This traditional practice predates cultural crafting of alcohol, and so also predates vinegar pickling by as much as 1000 years; after all, it was accidental exposure of alcohol to oxygen during fermentation that led to the discovery, and then development, of vinegar crafting. As cultivation of Juglas regia spread across the civilized world (walnuts are mentioned in many early mythologies and sacred texts), each culture would develop its own recipes and traditional uses for pickled walnuts. As a result of my researches to date, I have identified at least 60 unique recipes for pickled walnuts, with origins in Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, India, Iran, Italy, Mexi
co, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, and Ukraine; and I have personally crafted more than 30 of these recipes over the years. A curious pattern which I have discovered involves recipes originating in the English-speaking world. Of all these "British" recipes, I found that NONE called for garlic, that ALL included a sweetener (honey, sugar, molasses), and about half included ginger. As far as I can tell, it's only the British, and folks of their ilk, who add sweeteners to pickled walnuts and leave garlic out. Regrettably, for the home preserver, any recipe with a sweetener must be heat processed in a boiling water bath for at least ten minutes to prevent spoilage, but this can prematurely soften the final product before the spices have had a proper opportunity to effect their flavours. A possible solution to this problem is to "cold pack" the pickles before heat processing, thereby reducing the total effective "cooking" time. As a result of the cultural diversity in pickled walnut recipes, there is a pickled walnut for practically every occasion, even dessert. While traditionally eaten before preserving, Mazandaran recipe pickled walnuts made with a sugar syrup substitution, can be heat processed and served with sweet foods all year. These are a special treat with all kinds of desserts: fruit salads, pies, flans, and cobblers, chocolate cakes, tiramisu, puddings and custards, meringues, ice cream, baklava, yoghurt, and on their own, of course. During a recent dinner, someone even suggested trying them as a condiment for roasted pork tenderlion--they were amazing! Regular pickled walnuts in vinegar are usually eaten with eggs or egg dishes, cheeses and cheese dishes, grilled or roasted meats (hot or cold) and especially game meats, or with any other strong flavoured or spicy cuisines, such as Mexican, Thai, Indian, Moroccan, Schezuan, Jamaican or Cajun. Pickled walnuts are best brought to table whole,
in a shallow bowl with some of the pickle poured in to keep them moist. Only guests who know what they are should be allowed to just help themselves. The host should provide extra forks or toothpicks for the uninitiated to try a SMALL sample first. Warning: partially consumed pickles cannot be replaced in the opened jar without some risk of contamination or spoilage, especially if sugar is present as well. Pour any leftover pickle back into the jar. When all the walnuts have been eaten, you can use the pickle as a base for a minagrette, marinade, or straight, as sauce for fried eggs or a steak, for example. People often ask me, "What do they taste like?" Well, taste is hard to describe in words, so I often resort to this comparision: "It's like very lumpy Worchestershire Sauce." Another question I often hear is, "How do you make the shells soft?" This question involves a few mistaken assumptions. First, when I pick walnuts to make pickles, there is no shell, as such. Since the shell doesn't exist yet, it cannot be hard or soft. If anything, the stuff that would eventually become the shell, were it left on the tree to mature, is soft to begin with. The purpose of pickling is not to soften the nuts, but to eliminate their toxic constituents, which include juglaic acid, tannic acid, and hydrosulphuric acid. In fact, many trees were planted as residential landscape trees during wartime, because these chemicals, and others found in the nuts, were used to manufacture explosives and other materials for the war effort. Once the brining process has drawn these out of the walnuts, they are sun-dried to evaporate most of the remaining fluids (oils and water), then they are packed in sterile jars with spices and hot vinegar. While edible in about six weeks, some spices can take as much as four years to mature to their final balance with all the other ingredients. Over this time, not only does the flavour become m
ore complex, the nuts themselves soften in texture, yielding new kitchen possibilities. For example, add half a soft nut to a cream sauce, reduced over heat, to add colour and amazing flavour to a unique dressing for grilled or roasted meats. For the really adventurous, there is Henry Bain Steak Sauce, which includes pickled walnuts as an ingredient; only mature pickled walnuts should be used for such applications. In conclusion, pickled walnuts are perhaps the most ancient and widely consumed condiment in the world, thanks in large part to the British, who took it almost everywhere they colonized. As a result of the cultural diversity in the history of this "King of Pickles", there is a pickled walnut recipe to suit almost everyone's taste, whether vegetarian, carnivore, or just a sweet tooth. Pickled walnuts are an acquired taste, and are not for everyone, but this is actually a good thing: There probably aren't enough to go around!
Pickled walnuts are a real gourmet treat but its suprising how many people have never sampled their delights. The nuts are pickled before the hard shell develops, so in essence (or in vinegar), you are eating 'baby walnuts'. What else is in the fancy jar apart from these underdeveloped nuts? The pickling agent is malt vinegar infused with allspice, bay leaf, celery, cloves, mustard, garlic, and lots of other spices. The wallnuts are soaked in this concoction which preserves them. By the time you eat them they won't look at all like walnuts. The characteristic brown colour will have deepened to a dark grey/black which is somewhat reminiscent of a cooked mushroom. (The taste isn't anything like a mushroom though!) Once you peel off the black skins your walnuts start to look like nuts again. If you look at a jar of these in an imaginative manner you will see that they also look like miniature shrunken brains. Word has it that these are the remains of over enthusiastic Dooyooers, but I'm not too sure how much truth there is in that rumour. So what can you do with these? Eat them from the jar, add to Caesar salad, put in a curry, and lots of other things. I found quite a few recipes in an Indian cookbook where I could have used these. You can buy them in Tesco so they are fairly easy to get hold of. I paid £1.89 for the last jar I bought so you can afford to sample this product even if you aren't sure you'll like it.
Why don’t they break your teeth and leave you agony? Because the Walnuts are picked before they develop their notoriously hard shell. I once heard that it was the vinegar that softened the shell during the pickling process but I think you’d agree that a vinegar with stronger softening properties than Lenor Comfort Plus would be needed. It’s simply not true. Put the ghosts to rest (those people that have tried pickling Walnuts with hard shells, lost and now float in another vortex), the shells are not hard at the start of production. Anyway, NASA have been known to use the shells to cover rocket parts that are exposed to high temperatures so the stuff must be hard to soften. So which strange people learnt the art which would be such a future hit in the Baggins hobbit hole? The English of course, those ancient fellas that once lived on our colourful rainy island. Recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and fossils and writings have been found to corroborate the existence of the Walnut tree during the earliest ages. Pickling walnuts is very labour intensive, and skill is required to pick them at exactly the right time. The walnuts should be as large as possible, but as mentioned the shell must not have had the chance to harden. The result is an earthy, acidic tasting delicacy that look like small brains. They don’t sound very appetising when described in such a way but believe me when you get them on a plate with a Ploughman’s lunch and dissect them lump by lump (with thinking about the film Hannibal) you’ll develop an unrelinquished love for them. So what’s in the jar? The usual ingredients are malt vinegar, allspice bay leaf, celery seed, cloves, garlic, mace, mustard seed, and peppercorns which are normally stored in the jar for a couple of years to really infuse into the walnuts and create it’s distinctive flavour. You can only really tell what they ar
e when you cut into them because the skins look black and fairly smooth which is uncharacteristic of your run o the mill Walnut. You can also throw pickled walnuts into many recipes. Or throw them at your mates. One recipe that I have not tried yet is ‘Beef With Pickled Walnuts’ which sounds really tasty (found on ichef.com). They are also nice with green olives. You can buy them at Tesco or online (just do a pickled Walnut search). So please join me in embracing the pickled Walnut. They look like brains.