Pickled Walnuts

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finished pickled walnuts recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

There may be a few foods that are more English than pickled walnuts, but with the possible exception of fish and chips, I can’t think of one. Chances are, however, you’ve never heard of them. I hadn’t, until several years ago when I ordered the meat-and-cheese plate at a local Irish place called deVere’s.

On this place was a black disk. I asked the waitress what on earth it was, and she smiled; she’d had this question before: “It’s a pickled walnut. It’s good with the cheddar.”

I followed her advice and stabbed the disk with my fork, adding a bit of cheddar cheese and a bit of cold roast beef to round things out. Wow. It was a bit like eating solid steak sauce, with a little floral aroma and a zephyr of bitterness that just barely let you notice it.

I ate another disk all by itself: Fairly soft, puckery and strangely floral. And yes, there was definitely a Worcestershire-Heinz 57-A1-thing going on here. How had I never had these before?

Turns out that very, very few people outside of Britain eat them. This should change, which is why I am presenting you with this recipe. And the reason I am posting this now is because you need to get out and get your walnuts now. That’s right, you need green, unripe walnuts to make pickles. And yes, you use the whole thing, hull and all.

unripe, green walnuts in a bowl
Photo by Hank Shaw

I got mine a few weeks ago, after an unsuccessful fishing trip with my friend Joe. We were in the Delta and as we were driving out, I noticed a NorCal black walnut (Juglans hindsii) absolutely laden down with nuts. “Pull over!” Joe, used to this by now, did. I gathered about 150 nuts in less than 15 minutes. It was a bonanza.

I knew I was in business right when I got to the tree, but just to be sure I pulled out my pocketknife and sliced an unripe nut in half. You need to do this, either with a knife or a stout needle or a long nail, because you have to catch the unripe walnuts before the shell forms. Once that shell forms inside the walnut’s hull, you’re too late; the traditional harvest date in England is late June.

The process for pickled walnuts is not hard at all, but it takes more than a week. You need to brine the green walnuts for a good long time before they will be ready to pickle properly. The brine time helps with preservation and removes some of the bitterness in the unripe walnuts. Once brine pickled, they are pretty durable.

Do you need to sun-blacken the walnuts? No, but doing so gives you a nice, uniform look to them. Otherwise they will be olive green in some places, blotchy black in others.

closeup of finished pickled walnuts
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Once you have your pickled walnuts, what do you do with them? Look to the English. Traditionally they are part of a ploughman’s lunch, with other pickles, cheese and cold meats. But I see them a lot tossed into beef or lamb stews (pot pies and pasties, too!) in wintertime, and in summertime I’ve seen them served in cool salads alongside tomatoes, and accompanying shellfish such as scallops or shrimp.

pickled walnuts recipe
4.88 from 25 votes

Pickled Walnuts

Any walnuts will work with this recipe, from tiny native Arizona walnuts to big, fat English walnuts, which are the kind you buy in stores. But you do need them hull and all, so this only works if you have a tree nearby. The pickling liquid in my recipe is very traditional; you'll see variations on it throughout England. I've also made a Chinese-inspired version with Sichuan peppercorns and star anise replacing the allspice. This recipe makes about 3 quarts.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: British
Servings: 25
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • About 50 to 60 green, unripe walnuts
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 2 quarts cider or malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cracked allspice berries
  • 1 ounce ginger, about 1 1/2-inch pieces, smashed
  • 1 cup brown sugar

Instructions 

  • Dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine. Put on some rubber gloves if you have them, because walnut juice will stain your hands for weeks -- and it won't come off. Trust me on this one. Properly gloved, stab each walnut with a fork in several places; this helps the brine penetrate. Submerge the walnuts in the brine and let them ferment for 8 days at room temperature.
  • Remove the walnuts and put them on a baking sheet and leave them outside in the sun for a day, until they turn uniformly black. You can do this step without gloves if you want.
  • Pack the walnuts into quart jars. Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil and pour over the walnuts. Leave very little headspace in the jars. Seal and keep in a cool place, either the fridge or a basement -- you just want them to rest below 70°F -- for at least a month before you eat them. Kept this way they will last a year.

Notes

Note that prep time does not include fermenting time. 

Nutrition

Calories: 49kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 2272mg | Potassium: 24mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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244 Comments

  1. First attempt at making these this year. I had always heard of them but never had seen or tried them. I thought how in the hell you gonna pickle a ripe walnut. Didn’t realise you used the young green ones. So this year our huge walnut tree started dropping quite a few small green ones naturally, and then i found this recipe. I have abouttwo galllon jars going at the moment. Wife thinks i am the nut. lol I was wondering, after i sun dried my first batch and they tuned black i tried one out of curiosity and it tasted like a black salted olive. Have you ever tried pickling them like an olive? Think i am going to give it a go with a small batch.

  2. I have been wanting to try this recipe for years now and am always too late to the game. I just checked the walnuts and I cannot cut them in half. I can get about 1/4” into one before the knife stops.

    I want to make a steak sauce out of them…. If they are too hard to cut in half to use for the pickle, do you think I could still use them to flavor the brine to make a steak sauce? Or should I just wait till next year?

  3. Thanks for sharing your recipe of pickled walnuts. I made them two years ago but i was too late and they were hard rock in vinegar. I had to throw them. Will try yours.Can I use sea salt for the brine and how much is 2 quarts of vinegar please? Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the recipe. I will definitely try next year…I have already processed this year’s as Greek candied green walnuts.

    BTW you are so right about harvest timing. I’m in Sac Town, too and I waited until San Giovanni Day (6/24 in Italy) 3 years ago. Walnuts were very hard to cut in half so all went to Nucillo (Italian walnut liqueur.) Last year, I harvested 1st week of June, that was manageable. This year I harvested on 5/26; they were perfect.

    I have never heard of English/Irish version so for sure I will mark my calendar for next year. Also, we enjoy your elderflower codial every year. Thank you for the wonderful recipes!

  5. Heyyyhere! Super excited to try this week! I keep remembering to do It when it’s Already too late and say damnit-next year!
    So I’ve read the recipe over and over and I can’t find where and when you say to slice them. Thanks so much for all the awesome effort!

  6. This recipe is fantastic! The walnuts I harvested were mixed in maturity despite being green, so I did end up with a few that had some crunchies in the middle. The next go around I’ll try to hit the tree a couple of weeks earlier. Despite that, the flavor is delicious and they’re a great side anywhere I would use pickles. I did end up having a lot of quarts with this, but I just split a bunch into pint jars and shared with friends. I’ll definitely make these again when I run out!

  7. I read the instructions in a rush and as such, combined the brine AND the pickling ingredients for the first stage, then used the same combination to pickle them in after the sun-blackening process.

    Do you think this will cause any major issues?

    1. James: Not sure. I am also wondering where you are that you have such young walnuts in mid August. This is a May thing here in California, and June in England, where this was invented.

      1. Hi Hank,

        I picked them about two weeks ago in England but opened a couple up and they seemed soft enough – I may be wrong and I might have just prepared 50 vinegar grenades ready for Christmas…

      2. James: Ha! If you can slice them in half easily, you are good to go. Sorry I can’t answer your other question about combining the brine and pickling liquid. I’ve never tried that.

  8. Hi there,

    I have only just come across your recipe as I’m about to start pickling. I originally found another recipe that did to put the walnuts in salt water for up to 4 weeks and keep changing every three days! I’ve done this and now at the point of pickling but a little concerned that’s too long and now I have ruined them?
    They’re black and dried out and have a white salty residue which il wipe off. Should I still give it a go? It also didn’t suggest to prick them with a fork before? Maybe that’s why they had to be in brine longer.
    Your recipe looks yummy!

    1. Chloe: I don’t know what to tell you. I know that my recipe works, and does not require that long in the brine. Also, it is awfully late to be doing this recipe, as the walnut shells should have started hardening by now.

  9. Hi Hank, thanks for the recipe and it was fun to make. However, since the liquid they are canned in is 100% vinegar (besides the sugar and spices but no added water) we found these to taste only like sweetened malt vinegar. I am wondering if I did something wrong, or is that just how they are supposed to taste? Has anyone tried adding a simple syrup or maybe a bit of additional brine? Thanks in advance.

    1. If they’re done properly the vinegar is delicious – I drink it after I’ve finished the nuts which usually takes about 2 sessions.

  10. Wow, what a great find your recipe was! I have a beautiful walnut tree and for once I got the nuts before the squirrels. I just finished a batch of these and your flavor description “Fairly soft, puckery and strangely floral…definitely a Worcestershire-Heinz 57-A1-thing going on here” was spot on. What a unique thing to make and share. The recipe was easy to follow and I think they came out perfectly. This will be a fun and interesting addition to our charcuterie board.

    1. I want to add that because the walnuts float in salt brine, I weighted them down by placing a ziplock bag of beans in the top of the jar. I also kept them in a dark cupboard and had no mold at all. I did not do this for the 30 day pickle.

    2. I have just found this recipe and whilst a little late (I’m in Suffolk, UK) I’m going to give this a go. We have a huge walnut tree and lose all walnuts to squirrels so am excited. Walnuts are green a little large but no shells. Thanks again, wish me luck and just checking that I don’t slice til I’m serving. Is that right?

      1. Lisa: Well, in your case I would slice a few now to see if the shell is still soft. But if you still have decent green walnuts, then yes, I leave them while until serving.

      2. Greetings from Republic of Ireland, I first tasted pickled walnuts when I bought a jar in TK Max store in Dublin a few years ago. Most people in Ireland never heard of them being pickled, they usually just eat the mature nuts at Halloween etc. I see online a lot more UK people know them and like then, but as usual USA recipes contain ingredients that are practically unavailable here in Ireland……….. like what is this ” Sun ” that I’m supposed to use to blacken them LOL. ……I have 3 Kilner jars fermenting at the moment maybe a local tanning salon might let me…??
        Le gach dea guí ó Éireann ( every good wish from Ireland )

  11. I attempted your recipe but after fermenting the walnuts in a salt brine for 8 days I found a small amount of white mold growing on the surface.. is it safe to remove the mold and go forward as you can with other ferments?

  12. Hi Hank! I am finished brining and blackening my walnuts. I was wondering, can I put the rest of the ingredients in as stated, and then can them and store them in the pantry? I’m so excited to be trying this 🙂

    1. Jenny: Yes. And since there is so much vinegar in the pickling solution, you need not can it. Just tighten the lids.

      1. Thank you, I appreciate it.

        Just a side note, I’ve started following you on Instagram and really appreciate your thoughtful know-how. Thanks for sharing!

      2. Pickling vinegar smells great…many thanks for the recipe and walnut facts. I live in England so might try doing another batch as I have leftover pickling vinegar.

    2. Hi..we have an abundance of nuts this year after a really bad harvest last year.. can I ask.. do you cool the liquid etc before putting lids on.. ; once pickled do you eat the whole thing
      Cheers from Somerset

      1. Yes eat the whole thing sliced. They are good stirred into stews, but only one or two as they are strong.

  13. Hey hank – Im trying your recipe out with some walnuts from a neighbours tree. When the walnuts have blackened in the sun you say use the remaining ingredients – I presume that includes the now black salt brine water too? Or is this discarded and only the vinegar and spices used to jar the walnuts?
    Thanks!

  14. I’ve just started brining mine, just checked the tree and they are big enough but no shell. As we are in lockdown it’s a nice way to spend a few hours!
    (I’m in the UK near Cambridge).
    I have used table salt (NaCl) as that’s all I had to hand.
    For the brining they are in a bucket with a loose-fitting lid inside the bucket weighed down with a jar full of water, this keeps all the nuts below the surface, but any gases can escape easily. As we are in a heat wave the brining is being down halfway down the cellar steps.
    As my tree needed a prune anyway this killed two birds with one stone, incidentally I noticed that walnut leaves give off an aroma similar to cedar wood, so I might wilt down some leaves and see if I can distill off an essence to add to one of the jars.
    I reckon I’ll try a few different spice mixtures, one in each jar, to see what works best for my palate.
    I now have smoker’s fingers as I am intrigued to see how long the staining really lasts!

    1. I’m a pickled walnut virgin but have two trees full the nuts this year. Do you leave them to go black in the sun before or after brining please?

    2. Hi Adam, wonderful !
      I am near you. if you still have pruned branches, can I have please to try to grow new walnut trees from cuttings ?

      1. It’s pointless growing from cuttings when you can grow from nuts, you just need unroasted ones, (i.e. not from the supermarket) they grow like crazy. I have a few spare from last year if you want to try.

    3. Ohhh I’m thinking about doing this, I’m near Cambridge too ? interested to see what these turn out like as I love pickled walnuts!!

    4. Pickling done this morning. I only boiled one pint of the (malt) vinegar with the spices in, the rest I just heated up to about 80C in the bottles, this stops the acetic from boiling off too much and makes less mess and smell. The walnuts had been out of the brine overnight and not quite black but a nice dark olive green colour. I expect they will blacken off a bit further with storage. One test bottle in cupboard will be tried in a few months, the rest into the cellar.

      1. The test walnuts were edible within 2 weeks, quite tasty already, and they went black in the jar. I am looking forward to a walnut salad with fresh and pickled together – double walnuts!

  15. Can’t rate the recipe yet but I have just found two walnut trees on our land in Jamaica so here goes

    1. Hannah Glasse has a traditional recipe for this in the 18th C. The Art of Cookery. That recipe uses nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves, and black pepper