Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
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Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Pickled Walnut Challenge 2009

It was back in August last year that I read that The Cottage Smallholder was making Pickled Walnuts and I suggested that we get together around Christmas time to compare our PWs with hers. Just before Christmas we arranged a date, and last night the Victorian pickle fork lay in wait for the contestants . . .

Of course pickled walnuts can't be savoured alone – they need a traditional spread of cold meats and cheeses as a background for their complex top-notes. Inspired by my Christmas present – What to cook now by Valentine Warner I made leek vinaigrette using some lovely fresh fat leeks from the farm veg stall at 100 Histon Road, Cottenham and eggs from our under-gardeners of course. I had been on a foraging expedition of my favourite local suppliers and gleaned ham and haslet from Beaumont's Butchers in Fulbourn; smoked eel, a big crusty granary loaf, and some delicate spelt crackers from The River Farm Smokery in Bottisham. The ingredients for the main dish – Pork and Duck Terrine, were bought from my favourite butchers at Highgate Country Store in Willingham; where I also bought some very fine Blue Stilton and a delicious Isle of Bute Cheddar cheese. Making the terrine was a labour of love and took far longer than the recipe suggested! But it was worth every hour – and the yummy jelly which formed around the edge was heavenly!!!

Before we started tasting the 2008 pickled walnuts, we sampled Cliff's 2005 vintage PWs, these were pickled in white malt vinegar flavoured with mixed pickling spice. The vinegar had lost its harshness allowing the spices to be tasted, the texture of the walnuts was firm but soft enough to squash easily with a fork. These made an interesting comparison with the young pickles entered into The Pickled Walnut Challenge . . .

Purple Podded Peas entered two jars of Pickled Walnuts, both pickled in early July 2008. Cliff had picked the walnuts at a secret location near Cambridge and followed the pickling method described in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book The River Cottage Cookbook. Half the walnuts were pickled in cider vinegar, the rest in white-wine vinegar; both vinegars were flavoured with cloves, allspice, mixed peppercorns, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.

size : large, almost golf ball size! maybe too big.
texture : very good, firm but easily cut to show a good cross-section of immature nut.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang, robust spicing.
summary : needs longer to mature; a well crafted traditionally flavoured pickled walnut which hopefully will mellow over the months ahead.

The Cottage Smallholder also entered two jars of pickled walnuts one in cider vinegar and one in white-wine vinegar, but with different spices. The walnuts were picked in late July from an undisclosed location near Newmarket and pickled in early August 2008, see more notes about the recipes here.

Jar A: cider vinegar flavoured with cloves, ginger, alspice, garlic, peppercorns and molasses.

size : medium, a perfect pickled walnut dimensions.
texture : the outer layer was tender but the core was perilously crunchy in places as the nutshell had already started to form.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang; the inclusion of garlic and fresh ginger gave this pickle a hint of oriental spicing.
summary : a pity that the walnuts had not been picked when younger as the flavourings are good.

Jar B: white-wine vinegar flavoured with tarragon, allspice, cloves, mace, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and molasses.

size : medium, a perfect pickled walnut dimensions.
texture : firm but still a good pickled walnut, maturing may soften them more.
flavour : harsh vinegar tang; the tarragon adds an anise note which is surprising in a pickled walnut and slightly medicinal in character.
summary : it will be interesting to try this pickle after further maturing as the flavourings may mellow.

As well as the miriad of PWs we had a 'guest pickle' – Cliff's Piccalilli. everyone agreed that it was a 'mighty fine pickle' and a perfect accompaniment to the terrine. More will have to made in 2009 and plans are underway to dedicate an area of the vegetable garden to the growing of picalilli ingredients!

After all that you'd think we'd be ready to lie down for a snooze! But the feasting continued . . .

You may remember that the original challenge to The Cottage Smallholder included tasting Sloe Gin, as we know she was conducting intensive field trials into this delectable liqueur. Sadly she had to announce that the Cottage Smallholder Sloe Gin was suffering from an over-dose of almond essence and had been withdrawn from the contest. Nevertheless we'd got four bottles of home-made fruit liqueur from the Purple Podded Peas cupboards: Sloe Gin, Sloe Vodka and Damson Gin all made from fruit grown in our garden; and a 'guest liqueur', Quince Brandy, made using this recipe. These all went very nicely with the winter fruit compote (dried apricots and sultanas soaked in redbush tea with a small piece of vanilla pod; then warmed through with the addition of chopped Cox's apples and Conference pears and a spoonful of local honey)served with whipped cream, slices of Panettone and the remnants of the Christmas cake.

The Cottage Smallholder went home with the Victorian Pickle Fork (maybe it will become a legendary trophy like The Ashes) and a box of blue shelled eggs laid by The Spices. If anyone is up for a challenge then get pickling! And let us know if you're up for the challenge next Christmas.

PS. Matron - the Christmas cake was tested with a sliver of Isle of Bute Cheddar - verdict: excellent!


  1. What a great idea. I've never pickled walnuts but I do a mean selection of chutneys every year (AND sloe & damnson gin, plum brandy etc). Must do a tasting evening! The element of competition must add a lot.

  2. oh my! Where is my tardis when I need it?? I don't know what is more exciting - the pickled walnut challenge or the Victorian pickle fork! Pickles are considered highly in my family; Christmas would not be Christmas without a variety on the table, of which Piccalilli is the favourite (mind, my step father is English). It may be some time before I can join in this challenge, given that my Walnut is a mere toddler of two, and suffering badly in this heat. We could practice though and M. would definitely be up for this. Also the fruit liqueurs - now there is something that is sure to spark his interest! I, myself, want the fork and have a new thing to look for now.

  3. Thank you for a superb evening.

    Filled with walnuts, great food, good laughs and wonderful company.

    Just sorry that the studio assistants and under gardeners couldn't join in too.

  4. Gosh - what an absolute feast! And what a great idea to have a tasting eveing. I have to confess I've never tasted a pickled walnut.

  5. Oooh, you've made me feel very hungry now. And thank you for the list of local suppliers - I shall have to go scouting about!

  6. I would love to try some home made pickled walnuts - they sound delicious! I will have to hunt around to find a walnut tree though. The only ones I ever tasted were from a supermarket and tasted just the same as that awful Branston pickle.

  7. I've popped over here a few times via The Cottage Smallholder. I'm a huge fan of pickled walnuts - and Branston Pickle too - sorry Matron. Not sure whether I need to announce this or not, but I've given you an award. Hope you can pick it up when you've digested all those goodies, Best wishes, Sally

  8. Suddenly I have a craving for pickled walnuts--especially with the spread of foods you describe. Is pickling walnuts something I can do? Do I need a walnut tree? Or can I just fly over and get some of yours?

  9. Looks and sounds totally yummy!

  10. The sloe gin took me back to Guernsey!

  11. Veg Heaven - this was a great excuse for an evening of good food!

    Jacqui - what a shame you're so far away. Hope you track down a pickle fork.

    Hi CS - great that you and Danny were up for the challenge, looking forward to the return fixture!

    Gina - pickled walnuts are a bit like Worcestershire Sauce with crunch. The unripe walnut gives a tang rather like tamarind.

    Dottypickle - happy foraging!

    Hi Matron - I'm sure some of your pickles would win a challenge!

    Thank you Casalba - I'll pop over to have a look :-)

    Hi Ed - it must be a bit crowded round your way this week ;-) You need to track down a walnut tree (NOT a Black Walnut, the normal ones). Watch it like a hawk and pick them in early summer when the growing nuts are green and about an inch in diameter they are ready - the nut inside the thick fleshy outer part won't yet be formed. The process is a long one but you'd be up to the task! best if left for at least two years before eating.

    Petoskystone - because they are a delicacy and it means you can get to use the nuts before the squirrels nab the lot!!!!

    Hi Wendren - welcome to PPPs!

    Moreidlethoughts - now you've got to tell us about your sloe gin adventures in the Channel Isles!!!!


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