The Walnut Tree
Spiced Runner Bean Pickle
At the bottom of the garden at our holiday home in France, nearly touching the old stone wall, is a walnut tree; I’d like to say it was the “old walnut tree”, in the manner of the Old Quince Tree that we also have in the same garden, but, in fact it is quite young and we only planted it seven years ago. The tree has been extremely prolific and never more than this year, with both of us collecting at least two kilos of fresh walnuts every day……the wind kindly harvests the walnuts for us, and, as we have no squirrels in the area, most of our crop is safe. The tree leans at a strange angle already, and it’s green boughs provide cool solace and shelter for the chickens during the height of summer, as well as framing the bottom of the garden with a lovely canopy of glossy green leaves; but, it’s when the bright green orbs start to shed their outer skins and reveal their inner secret that I find the tree at its most attractive. For those of you who have only ever bought walnuts in those little netting bags from the supermarket or farmer’s market, you might find the photos I am sharing today as fascinating as I do when I wander down to collect the nuts.
The nuts are hidden inside a thick green skin, and as they ripen the skin starts to crack and eventually opens to reveal the walnut inside. Most of the nuts end up on the ground, but you can give them a helping hand and pick them as and when you see the skins starting to open……
…….you are then left with an empty husk and with a tell-tale nut brown colour inside the shell/skin – walnuts are known for their qualities as a natural dye, and when pickling the fresh green walnuts at the end of spring, you need to wear gloves – I will be sharing a recipe for traditional pickled walnuts next year. However, if the walnuts have been prolific, then our runner beans have RUN away this year………
……..every day until about two weeks ago, Malcolm would dump a couple of kilos of runner beans on the kitchen counter and say “over to you”! His duties as a gardener were over and mine, as a cook, were just beginning. At first it was wonderful…….we revelled in freshly cooked runner beans with every meal – sautéed with lemon and hazelnuts, gently steamed and served with salty butter, cooked au gratin or even made into curries, the beans kept on coming and I was able to create delectable recipes with them; until one day it all stopped and I heard myself utter the immortal words, “NOT MORE bloody runner beans”! It ‘s that stage in a harried cook’s life that the art of preserving needs to be activated, and that’s exactly what I did a week ago……it was time to dust off my preserving jars and get pickling.
My recipe today for Spiced Runner Bean Pickle is an old one – tried and tested countless times over the decades, it’s an amalgamation of an old recipe cut out of a weekly paper and my grandmother’s recipe for Runner Bean Chutney. Think Piccalilli but sweeter and milder and with less crunch, think mellow and yet subtly spiced, think “FAB with cheese and charcuterie” and you are on the right track with this classic pickle recipe. NOW is the time to make it, so the pickle has time to mature from an unruly and gobby teenager in to a fully morphed well spoken adult…….yes, it DOES need time to mellow and mature before you dare anoint any cheese or ham with a “gurt big dollop” on top.
The recipe is shared below, and in the absence of a few hundredweight of runner beans, you CAN use French (green) beans in this recipe, as in Haricots Verts. It is also very well-behaved after it is opened – I found a jar found lurking at the back of my fridge several months after opening and all was well…….if you have seen my fridge you will understand why! Serve this old fashioned pickle with cheese, of course, cold cuts, ham, charcuterie and with egg and chips too – it’s a great condiment to have to hand, and it takes care of all those unwanted late runner beans you may have at your disposal. Enjoy……and see you soon with a NEW recipe for STICKY CARROTS as well as my day at a leading carrot farm and manufacturer. Karen
Some WALNUT recipes on Lavender and Lovage: