According to Italian tradition, June 24 is the best day to make nocino, a lightly sweet, bitter black liqueur made from unripe green walnuts. This day is said to be the prime time to pick walnuts for nocino-making because they haven't yet formed their hard interior shells.
Expanding on a tradition I started last summer, we hosted a little nocino-making party last night. Alex gathered a basket full of pungent, Pine Sol-y green walnuts from a neighbor's tree and we got to work quartering them. After we chopped up around 100 juicy green walnuts, I dumped two, 1.75 L bottles of 100 proof vodka on top then added some spices like whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, lemon peel and nutmeg.
The boozy mixture has to sit for 40 days in a well-lit spot before you strain off the walnuts and add a few cups of simple syrup. Though the tarry, tobacco black concoction might look a little sinister when you bottle it, nocino transforms after about six months into a lovely, complex drink.
Here's the nocino recipe I used, which was printed in the Winter 2014 edition of Edible Idaho magazine. This year, we used 3.5 L of vodka, so we multiplied everything else by 3.5.
30 unripe black walnuts, quartered
1 (750-milliliter) bottle 100-proof vodka
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 of a whole nutmeg seed
1 whole vanilla pod
A few slivers lemon peel
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
A large, sealable glass jar
A couple of smaller glass containers with corks
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a sealable glass jar. Leave on the windowsill for 40 days, shaking every once in a while to mix things up. Strain out the walnuts and spices after 40 days and add a simple syrup mixture consisting of 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water. Place the sweetened concoction in a couple of smaller dark glass bottles, cork and wait until Christmastime, at least.