Newest Review: ... As a result of my researches to date, I have identified at least 60 unique recipes for pickled walnuts, with origins in Australia, Britain... more
Pickled Walnut Origins
Member Name: pickledwalnuts
Date: 16/12/02, updated on 29/12/04 (14008 review reads)
Advantages: Endless cooking possibilities, A pickle for every occasion--even dessert!, Lots of presentation options
Disadvantages: Some guests may be allergic to nuts, Time-consuming to make yourself, Not widely available
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!
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