The peels of fresh, unsprayed lemons yield a delicious drink.
Ah … so refreshing. Originally from the south of Italy, limoncello is becoming better known in the world as a digestif and something with which to toast. The lemon-based drink is also very good in cooking or baking when you want to add intense lemon flavor without the bitterness of fresh lemons.
You can buy limoncello at the liquor store. But I like things made from scratch. The trick is finding unsprayed lemons because to make limoncello, you must use only the peels. Not a great idea to put pesticide-sprayed peels into vodka. But if you really, really want something, sometimes your wish is granted.
Across from my local market, there’s a corner where several elderly people sit and sell little bunches of their garden produce for a few shekels. Once I scored a load of fresh grape leaves from an old lady there and cooked a dish I was longing for – mushrooms in grape leaves. Last week I was hurrying home from the market, loaded down as usual and a little impatient, when lo and behold – two bags of beautiful, home-garden lemons, on a folding chair.
The vendor was a small, thin man with big eyes under the brim of a sporty cap. I came to a halt in front of him.
“Are these lemons sprayed?”
“Nooo,” he said indignantly. “They’re from my own trees. It’s a different taste. Try them. Here – take both bags.” He stuffed the bags into the top of my shopping cart. If he hadn’t been so elderly and earnest, I would have taken only one, but as it was…those lemons looked good. All of 10 shekels for about 5 pounds of lemons picked that morning.
Now I had my unsprayed lemons. Cutting one open, the divine aroma of new citrus arose. My vendor friend was right – their sweetness and fresh flavor was beyond compare. I started my limoncello right away, to preserve the best of those essential oils in vodka, and juiced the peeled fruit for freezing.
Here’s the recipe. When you see how easy it is to make, you’ll want to go on a hike for some fresh lemons yourself.
- 1 bottle of vodka, 750 ml
- 7 or 8 large lemons
- 5 cups water
- 3 cups sugar
Wash the lemons well. Peel them thinly, avoiding the white pith as much as possible. A vegetable peeler works best.
Pour the vodka into a wide-mouth jar and add the peels. Cover tightly and label the jar with the date.
Shake the jar once a day. This redistributes the essential oils in the liquid. The peels will become pale and hard. One week of this maceration will make good limoncello, but longer – up to a month – is even better. When the peels have given their all, they’ll be crisp and dry.
Strain the vodka into a clean jar.
Make a simple syrup by boiling the water and sugar together for 5 minutes. Allow it to cool and add it to the vodka.
Allow the limoncello to develop for 1 week. Then bottle. Store in the freezer and serve it cold. It will pour out thick and syrupy if frozen.
Smack your lips and enjoy!