I have a very happy lemon tree in my backyard. Several years ago I had a fertilizer plug inserted in the trunk and now the tree gives me bushels of juicy lemons every spring. Using up said lemons can be a challenging quest. By making limoncello I have found a way for the fruit to do double duty and solidified my rock star status at dinner parties. I can zest or peel the lemons and then juice the naked fruit.
I first had limoncello at a local Italian restaurant where they proudly only used “backyard” lemons to make the brew. Since my first taste, I knew that I could be using my own backyard lemons so I’ve been making the liquere for several years now. There are only a few steps o the recipe but its not something you should plan on drinking immediately. Limoncello made with grain alcohol is definitely a drink that improves with age.
My sister has a grapefruit tree so I see Pompelmocello (grapefruit liqueur) in my future too. I’ve researched countless websites; the basic recipe to “cello” anything is pretty much the same.
What you’ll need:
- 15-20 backyard lemons
- 2 750 ml bottles of vodka or grain alcohol or a combination of the two
- Containers with lids
- Sharp peeler
- 6 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
Carefully scrub and rinse the lemons. It’s better to use organic or backyard lemons because you’re using the peel. Store bought lemons have pesticides and wax buildup on them that are:
- hard to remove and
- if not removed will end in your drink (eww).
Some recipes call for peeling strips and some call for zesting the lemon. Personally I’ve had great success using peels. It seems much quicker than zesting and, in the end, less messy. Use a sharp vegetable or potato peeler and peel only the outer zest from the fruit. Be careful not to get a lot of the white pith or it will make the final product bitter. Some white is unavoidable so use caution but don’t fret too much during the peeling process.
Place the zest in a large jar. Pour in alcohol and seal tightly. I’ve used plastic pitchers and sun tea containers with equal success. Let sit in a dark place (like a closet) for anywhere from 10 to 45 days. I’ve read that grain alcohol will leach the flavor from the peels faster than vodka will. If you’re using vodka, prepare to let the mixture sit for longer. You’ll know the process is complete when the peels have dulled in color and have a “crisp” texture to them. A test strip should snap in half easily.
Now comes the fun part. Strain the peels and discard them. Filter the infused alcohol in a colander lined with coffee filters. Be prepared to filter three to four times or you’ll end up with an ugly sediment in your bottles.
In the meantime, bring the water to a boil and dissolve the sugar. Let the mixture cool completely or you run the risk of burning off the alcohol (which, lets face it, defeats the purpose of the exercise altogether).
When the simple syrup is cooled to room temp slowly add it to the filtered alcohol and watch the magic unfurl. What previously looked like a biological specimen will bloom into a beautiful, pale creamy yellow color. Batches made with vodka produce a more golden color. Vodka based “cello” is not as pretty but it mellows quicker which means you can drink it sooner.
Transfer the completed mixture into smaller bottles and let sit for at least another 2 to 4 weeks. The longer the brew “ages”, the more mellow the liqueur will become. This is good because batches made with 100% grain alcohol can take your breath away (or make you feel like you could light your breath on fire) in the beginning. My lemon tree produces fruit in the spring. If I start the process then that means I’m completing the process in early summer. By the holidays the ‘cello has been sitting for 6 months and has mellowed considerably.
Store Limoncello in the freezer and serve ice cold.
Limoncello links I love: