Green walnuts have made their annual appearance at the farmers markets, which means it's time to make nocino, an Italian liqueur that's traditionally made in summer (if you want to get really pagan about it, the walnuts should be picked on the solstice, June 21, though it's too late for that now) and aged until the winter holidays, when it's used as an excellent digestive. We found these at Alemany Farmers Market, but you can also drive up to Marin, Napa or Sonoma counties, where the trees are plentiful, and pick your own.
You can also find several versions of nocino recipes online, but here's one my husband—a devout home-brewer and winemaker—has used that I've actually tasted and can vouch for.
About 20 green walnuts
1 quart brandy (or vodka if you prefer)
2 sticks cinnamon
4 whole cloves
5 whole, roasted coffee beans
2 lemons, zest only
1 cup sugar
Rinse the walnuts and cut lengthwise into quarters, husks and all. Note that walnut juice will stain almost anything, so roll up your sleeves and wash your hands immediately afterwards. Place spices, lemon zest and coffee beans into a quart jar; add enough walnuts to fill the remaining space. Top off with brandy. Put a lid on the jar and, to adhere to tradition, let it stand outside in a sunny place.
After about two months, the liquid will turn dark. Strain out the nuts, spices, lemon, and coffee beans. You should have about half a quart of liquid. Add a cup of sugar and enough brandy to refill the jar. Let stand at least another month. Sediment may drop to the bottom so carefully pour the liquid into another container and age until Christmastime. You can sample the nocino before then, but be warned: It will likely be very bitter until all the sugar has been processed and its flavors have mellowed with age.
Too lazy? Order nocino from Monteverdi Spirits in Napa, and let the Italians do what they do best.