Friday, April 15, 2011


Today, I took a bike ride and realized that the Noyers were beginning to get leaves. Noyers are walnuts and they are the principle crop of this area. The hills are covered with walnut trees in neat rows. Walnuts are the last trees to get leaves and the first to lose them. There are a few legends about noyers, one of which is a warning to never fall asleep under one. It's true that the tree produces a substance called jugend which is a natural herbicide, which is why one never sees weeds around the base of a walnut tree.
But jugend is powerfully aromatic. The aroma of walnut leaves and chatons is very spicy. The oil oxidizes black and is the base for the black stain and wood treatment traditionally used here. The fresh oil pressed from the nuts is used on salads and as a seasoning. Fresh walnut oil on white or feve beans is delicious. We use walnuts fresh in salads, ground in pastry as a "breading" on pan fried veal and chicken or fish. Walnuts are used in cheese spreads and dried sausages
There are many local variations of a gateau aux noix. My favorite is a filled gateau, like a tart. The pastry is made with flour and ground walnuts, sugar and butter. The filling is either creme fraiche or in my variation, yoghurt mixed with chopped nuts, sugar and some cornstarch....then when the gateau is cooked, it is napped with chocolate and decorated with fresh walnuts.....
There are a few famous regional distilled liqueurs made from the green shells which cover the nuts, but I make a batch of Vin de Noix, which is the classic aperatif of the Dordogne, every year. I have been making for the last few years from immature green walnuts, usually collected on June 1st. They are pierced with a nail, then steeped for a few weeks in eau de vie. Here, in the country, licenses are passed in families for the production of eau de vie, which is fruit alcohol, pretty high proof stuff. The licensees usually have alembics on trailers which they set up in the villages near a spring and the farmers all bring their barrels of fermenting plums. It's quite a social scene.
Here in Badefols d'Ans, the broullier sets up all winter long in a tent next to the spring.
This year, though, I decided to make the original recipe I learned about 11 years ago, which I believe makes a more aromatic final product. Instead of immature nuts, I collected the sticky baby leaves and flowers from trees. The oil is quite powerful and turns your hands brown pretty fast!
I took the leaves and crushed them into a liter of eau de vie. They will steep in it for a month. Then I buy 3 bottles of new Corbiere dry red wine. I use Corbiere because it is not expensive, and the wine should be good and fruity, but not aged. I mix the wine in a big pot with a kilo of sugar until it is dissolved. Then I add the black, strained, walnut oil infused eau de vie. 
Then, simply put it in fancy bottles and let it sit for three months.....
You could do this with black walnuts and use commercial fruit alcohol in the States. The variety of wine is not that important, it just needs to be a fruity dry red....Try this at home, and let me know how it works!


mud_rake said...

Who knew all of that information regarding the walnut? As you may remember, most of our walnut trees have been harvested for wood- as one would expect in our greedy society. Only in a culture-rich society as the French could one enjoy the 'fruits' of nature so widely.

Thanks for the information, but around my neck of the woods, it is only a dream.

ny edge said...

Informative and delicious,mmmmmm!

Engineer of Knowledge said...

Hello Muddy and Microdot,
Yes during the “Golden Age,” “Victorian Period,” the American Walnut trees were the preferred wood for furniture and the best old growth Walnut trees were mass harvested for this purpose and never replanted. In the late “Victorian Period” for the mass production of cheaper furniture, they went to Quarter Sawn White Oak, or American Chestnut with Walnut Accent or Trim. An example is that which was ordered and shipped out by the Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs.

Of course after the blight in the 1930’s whipped out the American Chestnut trees, you cannot find any furniture made from this wood after this point.

This is why today a veneer quality Walnut Tree log will go for $10s of thousand dollars. It is the thick, dark topsoil of the Mid-west that the best furniture grade Walnut trees are found as this is what gives the wood that rich Chocolate color. Here in the coastal Mid-Atlantic, the walnut wood is very dark brown and in the high rusty clay of western Pennsylvania, the walnut has a more red hew to it. It is sometimes referred to as Red Walnut. I have a small, round caned bottom, side chair made from this Walnut.

This is how I tell what region a piece of Victorian Furniture was made by the color of the Walnut wood of the time period.

A very good posting as I enjoyed it very much.