Friday, March 16, 2012

Easter Preparations Part I: Limoncello

Sorrento, earliest homes of limoncello
Lemons are plentiful in the Valley right now.  No doubt lemons are a common sight for most of us, who are accustomed to seeing them piled up in grocery stores all year round.  However, if you are fortunate enough to live in a location where they grow, lemons take on a new meaning.  The bright yellow orbs freckle the dark green foliage with light and warmth.  If you pick the lemons from the tree, their odor is full bodied and rich.  We are also all familiar with the juice of a lemon.  However, the skin of the lemon should never be taken for grated.  It is filled with the most delicious oils that can be squeezed on to the rim of glasses, lending a light perfume to a drink of water, lemonade or a cocktail.

Clearly the uses for lemons are many.  However, in preparation for Easter we were excited at the prospect of making Limoncello.  This delicious liqueur, used as a digestive in Southern Italy following lunch or supper, seems to us to fit the Easter season perfectly. 

Many recipes take the better part of 3 months to prepare, but, with the Easter season soon upon us, we drew inspiration from a trusted resource, Luscious Liqueurs by the indubitable A.J. Rathbun (author of the cocktail bible Good Spirits) which we have faith will yield a fine product.  For Day 1 you will need 14 lemons (hopefully freshly picked) and 4 cups of high grain alcohol (Everclear recommended).  If Everclear is not legal where you live (please move to a more Catholic state) you can substitute high alcohol vodka.  The difference will be notable.  Firstly, vodka does have its own characteristic flavor and most vodkas are 80 proof, unlike Everclear which is 190 proof. 

Your first (and by far most time consuming) task is to isolate the lemon peel from both the fruit and the any white pith.  Removal of the pith is important as it will make the finished product immensely bitter, detracting from the spirit of the limoncello.  There are two ways to go about this job: 1.)  use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin.  This is what most recipes online suggest.  2.)  what we did, which was to peel the lemons and then remove the pith with a knife.  I believe this second method was faster and perhaps superior.

As you remove the pith, be conscious of the tremendous oils that are stored up in the lemon's skin.  These oils will be the foundation of flavor of the limoncello. 

After you have isolated all of the skin minus the pith you will place it in a glass container with a tight fitting lid.  We used two quart sized mason jars.  Add the four cups of Everclear and then place in a dark cool location for two weeks. You can make lemonade with the leftovers.

After this 2 week period you will add 3 cups of simple syrup,which is actually immensely easy to make.  Simply (very simply) combine 2.5 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir at a low boil for 5 minutes.  Let this concoction completely cool in the pan, then add it to the limoncello or store as needed.  Simple syrup may be stored in the fridge for up to 1 month.

After adding the simple syrup, reseal and let the limoncello sit for 2 more weeks.

At the end of 2 weeks, strain the liqueur through a double layer of cheesecloth into a final container.  Limoncello is normally kept in the freezer. 

Perhaps next year we shall endeavor to attempt some of the more complex recipes out there.  One of our goals as a family is to really develop a comprehensive calendar that tells us which items need to be prepared at what times so that they will be ready in time for their designated feast.



  1. I like the sound of this - I've not had limoncello before, or ever made a liqueur.

    And, in case you're wondering how I found your blog - it's because I just read Webster Bull's post about Sigrid Undset and Master of Hestviken - one of the greatest novels EVER, and your comment.

  2. Ah, yes, you're the wonderful lady who commented about "Saga of Saints!" Our youngest daughter is named after St. Sunniva so I greatly appreciated the comment. I have yet to finish the entire "Master of Hestviken" series...I had to put it down because I was neglecting my domestic duties. I plan to start all over this summer when things die down a bit.

    Liqueurs are so much fun to make---inexpensive, low-maintenance and delicious. They also make great gifts.

    A blessed Saint Joseph's Day to you, and thank you for the comment!