No Summer arrives without the bonfire madness, the distant drumming from another century, and the making of a year’s worth of foraged aperitifs. When i first moved here we drank Vin de Noix to start all our meals. gradually the habit of a slightly sweet, slightly bitter aperitif has disappeared. The days of aperitifs made with bitter branches and fruit leaves seems to have been eclipsed by Aperol and Campari spritzes, gin cocktails served with floral tonics, and gallons of cheap rosé.
Home made aperitifs are infused with the feast of St. John follies. Pick those green walnuts and create a little magic. Think mid-summer madness minus the fairies and Shakespeare; add sugar, spices and moonshine to the unripened walnuts. ‘Unripened’ means that under the thick green outer husk, the nut meat and shell are still unformed, a juicy white tannic miracle growing on heavy laden branches.
For me, noix verts herald the long days of looking at Camont’s fruit and nut trees, gardens and potagers as a living larder. White peaches for ice cream, summer pears for jam, blackberries and raspberries for liqueurs. But it is this very first recipe I learned to make at the hands of Claude and Vetou Pompele some 25 years ago that reminds me of my most important job here at the Gascon Kitchen– hands-on teacher of artisan culinary traditions. So I am resuming my role this year as Chief Aperitif Influencer.
The walnut tree has been growing for over the 30 years I have lived at Camont. It was a leggy 12-foot sapling when I first spared its life. Now it reaches up over 40 feet and spreads a deep shade for the lambs, chickens and us. More squirrel-planted trees have sprouted and have added to the bounty. I once used the bottle of eau de vie made by old man Dupuy over 40 years ago. A gift from his daughter, Monique, I had tucked it away in the back of the boat cellar a few years back. Antique moonshine. Now I look for small batch eau de vie when at country markets, but a bottle of any clear alcohol will work as well.
This recipe was taught to me by Claude Pompele. I published it in “A Culinary Journey in Gascony”. There is a new story somewhere but for now this has been a story in the making for a long time.
Vin de Noix
Traditionally made on June 24, the Feast of St. Jean
24 green walnuts plus a handful of walnut leaves.
24 sugar cubes
750ml eau de vie
3 liters of inexpensive rosé wine
a handful of lemon rinds
Nutmeg shards, cloves and cardamon to taste
Smash the green walnuts with a rock. Work outside on an old board. Wear aprons and gloves.
Place all the ingredients in an earthen ware crock, glass jar, or stainless steel bucket.
Cover with an old plate. It will turn very dark from the tannins in the green husks.
Let sit 24 days.
Filter, bottle and drink at your leisure in the cold short winter days. Aging the aperitif longer results in a more dense and flavorful apertif.
Serve in small glasses as guests arrive. Don’t ask them. Just serve it. They will find it strange and scary. Insist they take small sips and think of Mid-summer in France. Maybe play a little medieval music in the background. Let a walnut tree grow. Take some time to think about the seasons. I make this for my Summer born friends- Elaine, Bill, Julie, Woody, Randy, and all the other Cancers in my Sagittarius life.