Saint Days in Italy are not only times for rituals, celebrations and traditions but they are also handy seasonal reminders, like a bookmark in the calendar. St John the Baptist day or San Giovanni Battista is a perfect example. Celebrated on June 24, it’s a day that signifies midsummer and celebrates the bountiful summer season.
San Giovanni Battista is Florence’s patron saint. The celebrations in Florence will include a Renaissance tradition known as calcio storico, gory sports performed by beefy tattooed men wearing historical costumes and an evening of fireworks.
In the countryside, this day marks another old tradition – making nocino – pronounced no-CHI-no. Nocino is a syrupy, spice-filled walnut liqueur as dark as ink. We had the privilege of sampling some home-made nocino in an Italian home, and have been looking forward to making our own batch on San Giovanni Battista day.
Walnuts, and especially their liqueur, have long been associated with witches’ spells and the midsummer itself is connected with mysterious rituals – this recipe is no exception. There is something about mixing together a large vat of spices and chunks of staining, unripe walnuts that has a touch of magic potion about it.
Traditionally, the noci (walnuts) are collected the night before San Giovannin Battista by a woman. Climbing the tree barefoot, she would carefully choose the best fruit and leave them outside overnight. The next day, the dewy walnuts are then infused in a heady concoction until the eve of Ognissanti, All Saint’s Day, on October 31.
If you suffer from a “delicate stomach”, the digestive and tonic powers of this dark and sweet liqueur – is the perfect end to those heavier meals later on in the year when the cooler months arrive.
- 30 whole, unripe walnuts
- 1 ½ liter of alcohol, 95%
- 750 gr of white sugar
- 2 gr of ground cinnamon
- 10 whole cloves
- 2 gr ground coffee.
- 400 ml of water
- Rind of 1 lemon
Cut the walnuts into quarters but be sure to use gloves, walnuts stain a very dark brown and this takes weeks to come off your hands. Place walnuts together with the other ingredients in a large glass jar with a wide opening and a total capacity of 4-5 quarts. Leave to infuse for forty days minimum or if you want to do as witches do, leave it even longer, until October 31, Halloween (All Saints Day in Italy).
I am definitely opening mine in 40 Days on August 3rd because we fly to the US on August 31 so I just barely have enough time….to enjoy a sip or two before leaving Italy this year.
A couple of days before you’re ready to filter and drink the nocino, have a little taste. If it is too “spiritoso” in other words, too alcoholic add a cup of water or two. Then, when the liqueur is ready, strain it first through a cloth, and if you want it very clear, strain again through paper, such as a coffee filter before bottling.
Nocino can be quite bitter and very alcoholic, so more water will dilute it. It really depends on your tastes.
Buona San Giovanni Battista Day!
Salute from Giove’ Italia