Nocino di San Giovanni

Nocino di San Giovanni

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Thu 21 Jun 2012 12:00 AM

 

While some people eat
four-horned snails to help keep arguments at bay and to avoid betrayals by
loved ones for the forthcoming year, others send barefoot virgins up walnut
trees after midnight on the eve of San Giovanni, Florence’s patron saint
celebrated on June 24, around the time of the summer solstice, the longest day
and shortest night of the year.

 

 

San Giovanni is known
in English as St. John the Baptist. He is said to have been related to Jesus as
well as to have baptised him.

 

Because of the
proximity to the summer solstice, ancient Celtic summer solstice rituals (think
druids, witches, magic potions and fertility rites) are tied into Florence’s
celebrated patron saint’s day and its overlay of Christian history. Centuries
ago, the Celtic tradition burned dried herbs and attached them to crosses to
keep evil spirits away on the night of San Giovanni. ‘Out with the old and in
with the new’: on the shortest night of the year, the Celts would pick the new
harvest of herbs.

 

Florence now
celebrates in a more modern way, with a spectacular fireworks display that
lights up the river Arno, and a touch of history, with men  parading
around the city the afternoon of San Giovanni, blowing long horns and wearing
plumed hats, tights and colourful bloomers. They are the ‘San Giovanni men’ and
they march to the Baptistry.

 

The Baptistry of San
Giovanni is located in the heart of Florence, next to the Duomo and in the
pedestrian area of piazza del Duomo and piazza di San Giovanni. Built between
1059 and 1128, it is one of the oldest buildings in Florence.

 

And since the 24th is
a local holiday, the night of the 23rd after midnight is a perfect time to go
barefoot up your walnut tree to pick 24 of your best green ones to make a
witchy potion of Nocino di San Giovanni in the small hours of the early
morning.

 

While the vinegar
made from young green walnuts is a good natural health remedy for sore throats,
Nocino di San Giovanni is a natural health elixir for many physical ailments,
as well as helping in difficult moments, warding off evil spirits and bad
thoughts.

 

But remember: this
potion must not be drunk before November 3 or the Celtic witches may come out
again!

 

Here is my recipe for
the Nocino di San Giovanni.

Alla salute!

 

 

RECIPE   Nocino di San
Giovanni

 

INGREDIENTS

24 noci
verdi, green walnuts

Scorza di 2
limoni, zest of 2 lemons

4 chiodi
di garofano, whole cloves

12 chicchi
di caffè, coffee beans

2 stecche
di vaniglia, vanilla pods

2 stecche
di cannella, cinnamon sticks

2 litres of alcohol, 96 percent

500g zucchero,
sugar

500ml acqua,
water

 

 

PREPARATION

 

Wait until after midnight on the night of
June 23rd, kick off your heels, hitch up your skirt and climb your favourite
walnut tree. Pluck off 24 of the finest-looking green fruits on it and secure
into your skirt. (Some say they can read the future on the shortest night of
the year. Maybe it is what they see from the tree-top, approaching over the
horizon?)

 

It is said that after the longest day, herbs,
fruits and seeds are at their most fragrant and flavourful. Note that at this
stage, the green fruit resembles more of a light green, round and firm but
moist baby melon, than a dry-husked walnut.

 

Pour the alcohol into large glass jars with
enough room to add the rest of the ingredients. Starting with the lemons, wash
their skins well, dry and then peel only the yellow zest of the lemons, leaving
their pith on. Save the lemons for something else and add their zest to the
alcohol. Split the vanilla pods lengthways down one side and scrape the seeds
of the pod into the alcohol, before adding the whole scraped pods along with
the cannella, chiodi di garofano and
the chicchi di caffè.

 

Lastly, prepare the green walnuts: cut each
one into quarters through the middle and you will see the beginnings of the
walnut forming inside its moist, firm green husk. You will notice your hands
staining a deep dark brown from the walnut juice: this is the rich colour your
Nocino di San Giovanni will be. Add the 96 walnut quarters into the alcohol
with the other aromatic ingredients, close with a lid and store in a cool, dark
place for about four months. During this time, the flavours and colours will
seep out and infuse with the alcohol.

 

After you have left the mixture for four
months, measure and weigh the water and sugar (500g zucchero, 500ml acqua),
put in a pot together and bring to a boil, simmering for 5 minutes to produce a
sugar syrup. Then set aside to cool.

 

While the sugar-water mixture is cooling,
strain off the dark aromatic liquid from the steeping mixture (discarding the
walnuts, etc.). Pour the dark liquid into the cooled sugar syrup, stir gently
and bottle. You have now created Nocino di San Giovanni: a deliciously
fragrant, sticky, dark brown walnut liqueur to offer solace and protection
during the difficult moments of the year to follow. Leave it to rest another
week and have your first sip on November 3.

 

 

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