Just three ingredients, and a flavorful lemony liquor is yours––well, in just a month or so! But it’s worth the wait!
Picture this. Warm summer afternoon. You are sitting under a lush lemon tree in Tuscany, chatting with your friends, birds are singing, there’s a gentle breeze floating through the green countryside, and you are sipping a little glass of homemade limoncello. All is well in the world.
The reality? Winter in Vermont with more snow days than we can count, but the beautiful season of lemons is upon us, not our own, of course, but in delightful abundance. Now’s the time to plan ahead for this summer’s treasures.
I love lemons. They are one of my absolute favorite flavors, and I use them every single week, even though lemons do not grow in my beautiful state of Vermont. I’ll be happy to send apples to the rest of the world, as long as I can have lemons in return. I know it is not eating locally, but life needs lemons, coffee, and chocolate.
This also helps to chase the cabin fever away. How can you not be happy looking at all that yellow?
One beautiful way to preserve lemons to to make your own limoncello, a tangy, sweet liquor made simply with lemons, vodka, and sugar. The fourth ingredient is time, so this is not something you make for this week’s consumption! In fact, it is one of those things that improves the longer you let it steep. Dreams will have to do until the reality is ready.
An infusion of zest in alcohol
When you make your own limoncello, you are infusing lemon zest in vodka. For this reason it is really important that you use organic lemons, well scrubbed, so that no pesticides or chemicals get transferred to the finished product. Sometimes non-organic lemons are also waxed to preserve them, and as you can imagine, that does not make for a delicious additive!
If you can find Meyer lemons, these are absolutely scrumptious when making a limoncello, but if not, regular lemons will do nicely.
As for the vodka, many recipes tell you to use Everclear, a grain alcohol, which has a higher alcohol content than the vodka you usually see, and in theory will extract more of the lemon essence than a vodka with lower alcohol content, and will do so more rapidly. If you can’t find it, use whatever vodka your liquor store has, that is what I use, and I don’t look for the top drawer either because I don’t think it is necessary. The flavor of this is about the lemons and the sugar syrup, not about the flavor of the vodka.
I make my homemade limoncello in a large two-quart canning jar and, once it is ready,
break it down into smaller bottles for gift giving. It is a beautiful gift, and well received!
In fact, most of my batch goes to others. I download labels and customize them with my name and date and glue them onto a pretty bottle. It makes a lovely presentation.
During the course of the year, I save vinegar and other bottles that work nicely. A label, a little ribbon, and you are all set!
Yes, you can sip this delicious liquor, in small doses. It is also good drizzled on poundcake, over ice cream, or even over fish. Mix it with a little confectioners’ sugar and you have a glaze for cookies and pies. A little mixed with fresh fruit adds a nice sweet/tart essence.
Of course, you can also add a little to a champagne flute and fill with your favorite bubbly!
If you prefer the flavor of orange, you can make an orange liquor using this same formula.
1,500 ml vodka
12-15 organic lemons
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
Run a two-quart canning jar or similar tight-fitting jar through the dishwasher.
Wash your lemons thoroughly and let dry. This is not an exact recipe, you lemons may be large or small, you might not be able to find enough, or you have too many. It will all end up tasting delicious!
Zest your lemons, taking care to use only the yellow outer skins. If there is substantial white pith, peel this off gently with a paring knife. I happened to find a peeler that took almost none of the bitter white; it was one of a package of three peelers from Oxo Good Grips ($15 for the whole set), and it works like a dream.
Place the zests and the vodka in the canning jar and set aside in a cool, dark spot for a month and up to six weeks, just in case you forgot it. By this time, the vodka will have a yellow color and the zests will feel more stiff. It will already look pretty!
In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until syrupy. Let cool.
Strain the lemon-infused vodka through a wire mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth over a large glass bowl or measuring vessel.
*2019 update *
In my original, I added the syrup here and usually stopped. Sometimes I mixed the syrup with the vodka and peelings and let it sit for another couple of weeks to get even more flavor out, but usually I just drained and combined the infused vodka with the syrup.
However, after I strained the lemon peel from the vodka this year, I looked at that sad little pile of left-over peelings and gave one a taste. It still had lemon flavor, so I added them to my still-warm pan of simple syrup. I thought it might infuse the syrup and add more flavor without waiting an additional two weeks..
Within an hour, I gave it a taste, and the syrup was quite lemony! So I let it sit overnight. This is about patience remember? It was really lemony in the morning!
Now strain again and add the syrup to the vodka, only a little at a time and keep tasting until it is where you like it. The amount is totally up to you, however, it’s good to get a second opinion on this one, or mix part of it sweeter and some of it less so. Dry the sticky peelings on a wire rack and save to use as a garnish in drinks, or chopped up sprinkled on desserts, or even in savory dishes. Waste not!
Of course, you can just add the simple syrup to the vodka and peelings mixture and let them infuse a couple more weeks before straining, but patience has its limits.
For me, I can’t wait to sit under that lemon tree, if only in my dreams!
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, the New Vintage Kitchen