I imagine that walnuts probably wouldn’t top many people’s lists of best-known Kentish produce, but nevertheless, they’ve been growing here for hundreds of years. Archaeological records suggest that the Romans may have been eating walnuts (along with filberts, or cob nuts), and we know from Aelfric’s (Archbishop of Canterbury) writings that from grafting was introduced around the sixth century AD to improve walnut and fruit orchards.
But in recent years, it’s cob nuts that have been enjoying a revival of interest, whereas walnuts have struggled to claim their share of the limelight. Still, that may yet change. Cob nut farms, such as Potash and Hurstwood Farms, are actively growing walnuts now, and sales of walnut trees to the public have been on the increase, too, perhaps boosted by our ever-milder climate.
I love the versatility of walnuts. You can use them green, ‘wet’, and dried, and they’re really not just for Christmas! (In fact, I usually find dried Christmas walnuts pretty disappointing – much more enjoyable, to my mind, are creamy, sweet, and tender wet walnuts. Do try them if you’ve never been convinced by the dried ones.) Kent-based condiment producer, Opie’s, pickles wet walnuts – and they’re a big seller. If not eating them raw, I use walnuts principally in sauces and baking, and but this year, when I found 3 old trees growing about half a mile from my house, I wanted to try something different. Spurred on by fellow Kent Twitterer and supperclub chef, @emwilco, I thought I’d have a go at making a Mediterranean favourite – green walnut liqueur.
Apart from the rather hazardous task of chopping green walnuts, making the liqueur couldn’t be much easier (this recipe from Paris-based food writer, David Lebovitz, was the one I opted for). It’s the waiting for it to be ready – about 2 months from now – that’s going to be the problem…