Living here means being on ‘the inside’ of Italian traditions. We get to partake in a lot of activities that, as a visitor, we would miss. Tradition in Italy mostly revolves around catholic holidays, saints, nature, food and local folklore.
Today, we celebrate San Giovanni Battista or more exactly, tonight is St John’s Night. On this evening, Italians traditionally celebrate the summer solstice and there are many traditions. Among them are bonfires, fireworks and making nocino.
What is nocino (no-SHE-no), you say? Well, it is one of our most favorite ‘italian things’. It is a digestivo, or after dinner liquor, made from walnuts. But, as all things Italian, not just any walnuts and it’s not just made any day…and of course, there is a ‘backstory’.
An ancient Italian belief holds that the dew left the morning after the shortest night holds magical powers to cure illness, especially digestive and liver problems. Walnuts have always been linked to potions, spells and witches. On St. John’s Night, it was believed that witches would fly into walnut trees to take the walnuts, so walnuts were picked from the trees (and bonfires lit to keep the witches at bay) and set aside to collect the evening’s magical dew. The following morning, the bright green walnut fruit are quartered (not with a metal knife, but ceramic or wood) and placed in glass containers filled with liqueur to steep into glorious nocino over the next few months.On All Saints Day, the container was opened and the aged, walnut-infused liqueur was sipped to ward off witches, spirits, and spells associated with halloween.
Nocino is one of our absolute favorite things about Italy. More specifically, Guisseppe, our chef and friend’s, homemade nocino. We have had a lot, but Giuseppe’s truly is the best. It is the most delicious, heavenly nectar and sipping it after a great meal puts the exclamation point to any night. Digestivos are an important part of an Italian meal. They are said to aid in digestion and are nice palette cleanser after a multi-course meal. A more commonly known digestivo is Limoncello. Limoncello is fantastic in the hot summer months, but Fall is the perfect time for the cinnamon sweet Nocino. Being here to take part in this annual tradition on St John’s Night, rather than just drink up it’s goodness in the Fall, is super cool.
Today we picked the hard green fruit of the walnut tree in front of the Casa Palei. Per the legend, you must use an odd number of walnuts to make your nocino, specifically 19. At Giuseppe’s request, we picked 38, for a double batch. We joked with him and told him we will need to pick more once we get a ladder because we intend to drink up all his walnut-y goodness come Fall. To which he laughed because Mark did consume the last of his potion last year.
The dew of St John’s night aside, I think we will try to make our own batch this year under Giuseppe’s tutelage. And so it goes…Italy tradition will become our own.
Did we spark your interest? Nocino is commercially made in Modena. You may be able to find some in the states. But, better yet, come taste the fruits of our labor (get it?) and join us here to taste our homemade variety. It is after all, the very best. Join us at our fantastic B&B accommodations in the heart of Tuscany.