My sister and I spent a weekend doing what we do best: meandering through tiny towns looking for cherries and antiques, dipping our toes in mineral-rich waters, reading about dams and tribes and what was stolen, marveling at mesas and million-year-old rock, and of course, harvesting green walnuts to make nocino.
We drove along the upper Columbia River to a tiny town called Rice, whose main street includes nothing but a boarded up general store. But tucked up in the hills surrounded by pine trees and juneberries is a little farm called Quillisascut, where Lora Lea and Rick Misterly have been homesteading for the last 40 years. They produce farmstead cheese, which they sell to a number of restaurants in Seattle, and grow dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables that are used for their cooking school. Their classes are geared toward folks in the food industry or in culinary programs eager to learn traditional food crafts like jam-making, bread-baking, butchery, and so on.
We attended a class on nocino, which is an Italian liqueur made from green walnuts. The walnuts are harvested on the summer solstice, soaked in alcohol, sweetened, and flavored to your liking. I added vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, and plenty of orange peel to mine, and Anna added caraway and cardamom to hers. The mixture sits to build flavor throughout the summer and is ready to drink during the holidays. It is a lovely treat to sip after dinner, added to a wintery cocktail, or poured over ice cream.
At the end of class, Lora Lea prepared us a simple and exquisite walnut themed-lunch. Anna and I watched with delight as she pulled jars of preserves and pickles from her pantry and prepared a salad and platters of cheese. We ate walnut soup flavored with roasted shallots and orange juice, drizzled with home-pressed walnut oil. To finish, we ate walnut ice cream swirled with walnut caramel, and spoonfulls of walnutella pressed between walnut shortbread cookies. Pretty heavenly.
After lunch, the other guests made their way home and Anna and I had the place to ourselves. We took a dip in the nearby river, picked strawberries from the garden, strolled through fields of bachelor’s buttons, and took in the quiet. Lora Lea offered us samples of her elderflower kombucha as she effortlessly prepared dinner: a heaping pile of garden greens, salty aged goat cheese, perfectly toasted croutons, and an anchovy vinaigrette.
We fell asleep to the sound of Rick playing classical piano and the hum of the night sky. It was a perfect end to the longest day of the year.