As the old adage goes ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’; but I’m an adult with stresses and worries just like the rest of you and I think we deserve a little alcohol in that. So I have taken it upon myself to change this adage to ‘when life gives you lemons, make limoncello’.
Limoncello is a liqueur and digestiff made simply with just 4 ingredients; lemons, pure alcohol, sugar and water. Traditionally, the limoncello is made with the Sorrento lemons found up and down the coast of Amalfi and the Sorrentine Peninsula growing in impressive abundance in Southern Italy. Another name for the Sorrento lemon is Femminello St. Teresa lemons and Sfusato lemons. In Northern Italy they call this drink Limoncino.
The precise origin of this Mediterranean elixir is caught up in a tangle of myth, legend and enigma. It is said that the friars made Limoncello in the monasteries and the fisherman made it boost health and ward off the common cold. In mythos it was the sirens that created limoncello and used to it keep the sailors after they mesmerized them into captivity. It is said that this myth plays into the legend of the fishermans using the elixir to ward of the common cold as well as a reminder to steer clear of the sirens lure.
Ancient folktales aside, this lemon saturated libation is still in use today but for slightly differing reasons. As mentioned above, Limoncello is considered a digestiff which is taken in an aperitif glass after a good meal to aid in the digestion of ones food. There is merit in this as the lemon contains bitter principles that aid in stimulating the digestive process naturally.
Primarily Limincello is now drank for pure enjoyment. On a hot summers day, pouring a little glass of chilled limoncello is like being kissed by the sun. It has a perfectly balanced sweetness with the tart of the lemon and a slight bite from the alcohol. Truly a balanced beverage to delight the senses and uplift a clouded mind.
Limoncello is irresistibly easy to make with the only caveat being that it takes some time to finish infusing the lemons into the alcohol. Obviously, we do not have Sorrento lemons here in the states so the next best option is to pick up some meyer lemons. If you cannot find meyer lemons than any lemon will do but I must insist that they be organic. The alcohol does an outstanding job of stripping the flavor and essential oils from the zest and if you do not choose organic it will also pull the chemicals and waxy coating used to preserve the lemon. Trust me; this will undoubtedly impart a peculiar flavor into your limoncello.
To make a really great batch of limoncello that you can store in the freezer you need to buy 100 proof alcohols. Some people use vodka, others everclear with great results. The reason why it is so important to use a higher proof alcohol is because even at an 80 proof the limoncello will freeze in the freezer. How do I know this? Well, because I did it! I froze half of my first batch of limoncello! It’s not the end of the world as I just let it thaw out and tucked it into the back of my refrigerator. Good as new. However, keeping it in the freezer makes it that much more thirst quenching when it is chilled to colder temperatures. A higher alcohol content also pulls out the lemon essential oils and flavors much faster.
What I love most about making limoncello is how forgiving of a recipe it is. If you check out more recipes all over the internet you’ll find that people change it up all over the place and that there is no real “authentic” way to make it and no recipe that outshines them all. I personally do not like things that are overtly sweet because I’ll get a tummy ache. My recipe highlights the lemon and lets the sugar take a back seat, only to compliment the lemon. If you know you got a sweet tooth then by all means, add more sugar! The beauty of these things is that your creations should be tailored to YOU! So have fun with it!
Large mason jar, cleaned with lid ready
12 to 15 organic lemons
A liter of 100 proof grain alcohol
3 Cups filtered water
2 Cups of white sugar (white sugar to keep the bright yellow colour of the lemons)
First step: Peel the lemon skin taking care not to get much, if any, of the white pith. The pith is much too bitter and we want to keep the focus on just the zest.
Fill up a large mason jar with the lemon peels and top it off with your choice of 100 proof alcohol then cap it tightly.
Let it sit in a cool dark place for 4 weeks giving it the occasional shake.
Once the lemons are done macerating go ahead and strain out the lemons with a fine mesh strainer.
On the stove top, heat the filtered water and dissolve the sugar into it while stirring constantly. Once the sugar is completely dissolved take it off the stove top and allow it to cool.
You can now add it to any container for keeping. I like to use the flip top bottles for extra flair.
Chill, serve and smile.
Written by Kate Williams