i managed to smuggle pickled walnuts in their dinner. pickled walnuts!!!! to a man who hates nuts and another who professes to hate pickles. i thought that was a result. i wouldn’t say they positively relished the pickled walnut but i don’t think they objected either.
i remember those walnuts when i was little. in the yard of the house where my dad was born, behind the beehives and the linden trees, there was a walnut tree. maybe two, i can’t remember. i do remember that the shade it gave in the dry heat of the summer was so thick and so deep that you had to wait for your pupils to widen and could feel the temperature drop by a few degrees on your bare arms. you could also smell the tree – i would recognise the smell now though i can’t describe it. not like a fresh, herby or grassy smell, more like a heavier scent of something bigger and more substantial.
a leaf of a walnut tree is large and shiny, with thin veins you can fold and crack when bored waiting for your mum to finish talking about pickling. by august, the tree would be full of unripe walnuts – they were hard, like little green rocks but smooth, dappled with brown and almost velvety. i could never understand how you went from that to the walnuts we used to eat at home that my mum would grind in a meat grinder and bake into cakes later.
as children, we used to throw the little green bullets at each other (asyoudo).
by the end of august, the ground was littered with slightly moulding walnuts going soft underfoot.
my aunt, a formidable woman who kept everyone fed and watered, not to mentioned organised and entertained (including townies like us who descended every summer to ride on hay trucks and stick their heads down wells) would pick the walnuts and they would later turn up in jars, miraculously transformed from mossy green to dark brown, almost blue, as if someone had pickled them in a jarful of ink.
of course, my salad walnuts came from a much more prosaic source (though i suspect my aunt didn’t see climbing walnut trees as particularly romantic). the recipe is from mark hix's cook book. i ate an amazing hanger steak with grilled bone marrow in his restaurant in smithfield - that's what made me buy the book. it's not a pretentious salad by any means but i thought it was enjoyable.
for three people, you bake a whole head of young garlic wrapped in foil for about 45 mins or more on 200C. you then peel the thick outer layer and chop the soft cloves inside into bitesize pieces. you boil lots of purple sprouting broccoli until it still has a bit of a bite, and combine it with the garlic and one pickled walnut each, thinly sliced. i also put a bowl of mayonnaise mixed with creme fraiche on the side.