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At the end of July, I remember eyeing a few pilfering parrots (called ‘green bastards’ or GBs for short) in SJ’s walnut tree (the ones above are said parrots, just in a different tree) and tossing imaginary parrot-maiming rocks at them. The walnuts were little green orbs, dangling from gnarly black and white branches – unreachable without a long-armed branch clipper or very tall ladder. And at this early green stage, I really didn’t WANT to harvest them. But the GBs liked them just fine. And one by one I watched the green orbs disappear.

When SJ first told me about his tree, I got a little giddy.  A kind of silly, school-girl giddy.  I love walnuts. The prospect of homegrown roasted walnuts, maybe spiced with a little garam masala and lightly sweetened with brown sugar, sent me into my happy place, snuggled up in front of a fire, hot chai in a large mug, and walnuts in an easy-to-reach bowl. But that wasn’t going to be until much later in the year. And the GBs were gnawing away at my little dreamscape, one young green walnut at a time.

Granted, it’s not like I’ll go without. I have a great nut vendor at the Pasadena market (Joe at Walker Farms) and I’ll happily help keep them in business. It’s just that whole homegrown aura. I was really looking forward to enjoying homegrown walnuts. It’s like graduate-level harvesting. Tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs are how one generally cuts ones teeth on home harvests. Then you get into longer term plantings like garlic or jicama or fruit trees. Nut trees aren’t even usually on the map – the space to product ratio just doesn’t jive for most gardeners.

Walnut trees? Even less so. The trees exude a chemical (juglone) at varying levels of toxicity and can affect surrounding plants, either stunting them or killing them outright. Tomatoes and other vegetables are particularly vulnerable.

So if you garden with edibles in mind, the walnut probably doesn’t even make your food tree list. And if it does, it ends up where it can do the least harm. In SJ’s case, it’s in the front yard near the property line.

So it’s July. The walnuts are green orbs just a touch smaller than a golf ball. The parrots are enjoying the warm summer SoCal sunlight and feasting on walnuts. I mentally kiss them goodbye.

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And then I read about liqueur de noix. Google liqueur de noix and there will be one English post at the top. The rest will be in French. The top post belongs to David Lebovitz – former pastry chef for Chez Panisse, and author of many fine books (including Room for Dessert, from which this recipe is adapted) that will make you gain several pounds and a gym membership. He eloquently talks about the digestif, how he obtained his green walnuts, how to make it, what it tastes like, how to use it, etc. He also said the traditional time to make it, in France anyway, was during the last two weeks in July, when the walnuts achieved a certain something.  Why not August?  Or early July?  Only the French know.  And I’m in L.A.  So the answer will have to wait.

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Now here I am, in the last two weeks of July window, with a walnut tree full of the little green orbs and feeling a bit bummed that this harvest is only going to benefit the large, loud, and messy flocks of non-native parrots that thrive in the area. And I come across David’s post that says, oh yes, you CAN liberate your walnuts from the tyranny of thieving wildlife and get something tasty in the bargain.  Within days, the nuts were harvested, quartered, and dunked in a bath of vodka, sugar and spices. The liquid evolved pretty quickly from clear to smokey black – maybe within the first week or so. But it wouldn’t be ready to enjoy for a somewhat biblical stretch of 40 days.

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SJ dutifully shook the jar every day as required and we waited. And then forgot about it entirely. The jar of liqueur sat for about, oh, 90+ days. I decanted it, finally, after Thanksgiving, wondering if the mysterious, opaque, black liquid was all it was supposed to be.  This is what it looked like when it began.

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And this is what it looked like after.  It’s not terribly different from what David says – it tastes like a strong, espresso-y liqueur. Not nearly as syrupy or cloying as I thought it would be, given the giant heap of sugar that I put in the jar. The spices are a mellow afterthought, taming what would probably be an overly bitter concoction – a treacle – fit only for punishing children.

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Drizzled on ice cream as David suggests? Oh yes. I also intend to add it to whipped cream and warm coffee.

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Bottling was a simple affair – I thoroughly cleaned out a few leftover wine bottles (we go through our fair share here) with hot soapy water, rinsed them well, used a tea pot filter to funnel and sift out the bits, and corked it like I would any other high alcohol liquid. No steaming, boiling, or traditional “canning” methods needed.  Just clean bottles and time.

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A little over 1000mL sits in my pantry now (David suggests any cool, dry place and says to store for a year). This is not a liqueur you can find in your local beverage outpost, no matter how boutique they are. This is a strictly small batch, artisanal digestif, the kind you’d imagine a savvy sommelier pulls out at the end of a fabulous meal and says, flourishing a hand over the unmarked bottle, “this isn’t like anything you’ve tried before. We smuggled some in with a shipment of truffles and Colatura.” When really, you spend some time in July getting buddy buddy with your walnut grower, so that he’ll sell you a bag of 30+ green walnuts (just promise a taste of the results after Halloween). Then after a particularly nice dinner party the following November, you bring out the unmarked bottle and say to your guests, “this isn’t like anything you’ve tried before. We smuggled some in with a shipment of Russian teas and caviar.”

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Small servings.  It’s potent.  Add in a macaron and all you need is a table in front of a Parisian bistro in springtime.  No parrots allowed.

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The recipe is at David’s blog, so I won’t reprint it here.  Go there, though, and put a little reminder on your calendar in July 2010 to talk to your walnut vendor.  I’ll post a reminder here as well.  Make enough and you’ll have part of the holiday gift list handled.

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