Christmas in Cameroon is rather different from Christmas in Germany. There, it is mostly a Christian holiday. People go to mass. In the night, they might go to a party. All the things that have become connected to Christmas here (gifts, cake etc.) including all the commercialization, are virtually absent.
To an extent, I was missing some of the specifically German Christmas atmosphere. To compensate for it, I am eating one of the black nuts I prepared last summer. Black nuts are a specialty from one part of Germany called “Pfalz”. All the aromas that people here associate with this time of the year (cinnamon etc.) are inside. Absolutely “lecker” (delicious). How did I do it? Let me share the secret with you.
I harvested unripe walnuts around June 20th (if you know a walnut tree on the southern hemisphere, add 6 months). At this time, the woody shell of the nut has not yet formed. If the shell has formed already (soon after this date), it is too late.
The fruits are green and have a pleasant, lemon-like smell that, unfortunately, does not survive the following procedure. However, the end result is still delicious. I don’t own any walnut tree but I know where some large ones are in a public park in the city (but I won’t tell you that secret).
The next step is the most strenuous of the process: you have to take a fork and pierce every nut several times. My ankles hurt afterwards. I am thinking about constructing some tool for this step for next year. You need rubber gloves for this step or else your hands will be stained brown for the next two weeks. Latex gloves are too thin.
The nuts are now watered in cold water. So put them into some large enough container and change the water twice a day. I dumped them into a sieve every morning and evening, put them back into the container and filled it up with fresh water again. I repeated this for two weeks. This way, some bitter substances are extracted. The water becomes quite dark, especially in the first days. During this time, the nuts become darker, first yellowish, then brown, finally almost black.
I don’t know what goes on inside the nuts chemically during this time. It is some kind of fermentation and oxidation process but I don’t know if any microbes are involved. I have not yet searched for any scientific literature on this and I don’t know if such research has been done already.
At the end of this process, I put the nuts into slightly salted water and cooked them for about half an hour. This deactivates any enzymes or microbes. After this procedure, the nuts are edible, but taste rather bland.
Now, I fixed a concentrated solution of sugar (I added some maple syrup into it, but that is optional) and added spices: a little bit of salt, several vanilla pods (sliced open and cut into pieces), several pieces of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, mace, ground orange peeling, ground lemmon peeling. Other spices are possible, for example, some people add some chilly. I added the nuts and boiled the solution.
Now, every other day (5 times altogether) I removed the nuts and boiled the syrup again to remove water. To speed up the process, I added some more sugar. After this, I added the nuts again. The reason for this is that the syrup extracts water from the nuts through osmosis. If it becomes too thin, it might start to ferment and the nuts might also become moldy. In the process of candying however, water is bit by bit replaced by sugar, thus conserving the fruits. At the same time, the aromas of the spices are penetrating into the nuts.
After 10 days of keeping the nuts in the syrup, I boiled the nuts together with the syrup, then filled them together with syrup and spices hot into clean jam jars sterilized with hot water and closed them hot. I turned them over and let them cool down.
I now kept the jars until shortly before Christmas and distributed them among family and friends as my Christmas gifts. After about five to six months, they are truly delicious, although they taste quite good already shortly after preparation.
The nuts have a wonderful aroma and a special, nice crunchy-soft texture. They taste wonderful with vanilla ice, with cheese or meat, especially game (you may cut them into slices). The remaining syrup is wonderful with yogurt or muesly, ice cream, or mixed with vodka or other spirits to make a nice liqueur. You can also mix it with hot red wine, yielding a perfect “Glühwein” (hot wine punch). Instant German Christmas atmosphere.
Looks like a lot of work but actually, it isn’t. The work is spread over several weeks and on most days, it takes just a few movements. The end result, however, is worth the effort.
(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juglans_regia_005.JPG?uselang=de)