Cooking Up History: Pickled Walnuts (1875) | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Cooking Up History: Pickled Walnuts (1875)

Cooking Up History: Pickled Walnuts (1875) | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargePickled Walnuts Newspaper Recipe (Dodgeville Chronicle 1875)


Pickled walnuts are not your average Wisconsin snack. They are much more common in England, but when we came across them in an 1875 issue of the Dodgeville Chronicle, we knew we had to try them.

The nut is picked when it’s still green and the actual walnut shell hasn’t formed on the inside. Rumor has it, the perfect time to pick them is end of June – we didn’t make it to the trees until the beginning of July and it still seemed fine. The whole nut, husk and all, is pickled in vinegar and spices.

As this was one of the first recipes we decided to recreate and we had to wait over 6 months for the nuts to ripen appropriately and then do their magic in brine, there is no doubt that this has been the most time-consuming culinary adventure yet.  

EnlargeWalnuts in pickling juice


According to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, the black walnut or Juglans nigra, is native to Southern Wisconsin. Once familiarized with the leaves, they are not hard to spot. We had a number of people tell us about the pesky walnut trees in their backyards, which apparently make the soil quite acidic and can cause damage when dropping the ripe walnuts later in the year. We soon realized, however, that the trees can grow very tall and picking the nuts while still green is not always easy. Luckily, Old World Wisconsin is home to many beautiful black walnut trees with plenty of low hanging fruit.

TIP: Let your eyes adjust. At first you may think that there are no nuts on the tree, but look closer. Chances are there are plenty.

We followed the recipe directions and pierced the nuts with a pin and were excited when it went right through. It should be mentioned, however, that the juice that comes out will stain skin, clothes, and any bowls and utensils you will use in the pickling process.

EnlargeWalnuts in shells


Back from our field trip to Old World Wisconsin, we prepared a saltwater solution and submerged the walnuts. They require quite the attention as they need to be stirred every morning and night, and the brine needs to be changed every three days. (TIP: After removing the walnuts, you can use the brine to dye fabric.) Nine days later, they are drained and spread on trays to expose them to air for about 12 hours. During that time, they will turn completely black.

The pickling solution is a mixture of vinegar, salt, black pepper, ginger, mace, cloves, and mustard seed. It is boiled and poured over the blackened walnuts. Although the recipe calls for them to be stored in a stone jar, we recommend being just a little bit more cautious and using your favorite canning method to make them shelf-stable.

EnlargeWalnut on a cracker


We decided to let the walnuts sit and pickle for five months before opening the first jar. We served the result sliced and diced with cheese, which was quite the hit with taste testers. As other newspapers suggest, pickled walnuts could also be a great addition to meat and boiled eggs. The texture is surprisingly corky and not at all like that of an olive, which we expected. While, for some, this may not be a snack worth a whole year of preparation, we will definitely find more ways to use up the extra jars.

The Recipe in 2020:

EnlargePlated cheese and walnuts


Pickled Walnuts

  • Fresh walnuts picked while still green (recommended time for picking: late June; they’re good to go if they can easily be pierced with a pin) 
  • Brine
    • Water
    • salt 6 oz/gallon of water
  • Pickling Solution
    • ½ gal vinegar
    • 1 tsp. salt
    • 2 oz black pepper
    • 3 oz bruised ginger
    • 1/8 oz mace
    • ¼ to ½ oz cloves
    • 4 oz mustard seed

Cover walnuts in brine, stir every morning and night and change brine every 3 days. After 9 days, remove the walnuts from the brine and spread them on a tray and let them sit until completely blackened (for about 12 hours).

Boil vinegar, salt, black pepper, ginger, mace, cloves, and mustard seed for about 5 minutes. Place walnuts into jars and pour over the pickling solution.

Use your preferred canning method to make shelf-stable.


Do you enjoy time-consuming recipes from the past? Check out our recipe for 1918 Apple Butter