Monday, September 13, 2010

Why and how I make (so much) limoncello

Why? Surfeit of lemons . . . and I love it!  Of course, this photo was taken a few months back.  This time of year we only have lime impersonators on the tree.  Neapolitans love their lemons -- there are trees everywhere . . . along the streets, in the parks, and, of course, backyards.  We have five lemon trees in ours along with two tangerine and two orange trees.  It's citrus overload February through April.  I do make all kinds of other things . . . marmalade, lemon cakes, citrus salad dressings . . . to reap the bounty.  But limoncello makes the sunshine last a long, long time (unless, of course, you are Danny Devito).  I didn't post this in a timely way for yard-picked lemons, but it's good timing if you want to give limoncello for the holidays. 
Here's how I make it.  

Pam's Limoncello

1 liter bottle vodka (inexpensive is okay)
1 liter of grain alcohol or everclear*
12-15 organic Meyer lemons or Sorrento lemons as the case may be
5 cups sugar
4 cups filtered water
1 3-liter glass container (I found mine at World Market)
potato peeler (sharp one!) or sharp small knife
coffee filters
soup ladle
4-5 resealable bottles (Ikea has great ones)

First, pour both types of alcohol into the 3-liter glass container.  Wheeeeew! Don't get intoxicated from the fumes, especially since you will be using a sharp object now.

Use a sharp potato peeler or a small sharp knife to remove the zest or yellow skin of your lemons.  Minimize as much as possible the pith or the white underskin on your peels because the pith will cause the brew to be bitter.  Place peels in the alcohol as you work.  NOTE: Above you see the peeling was done after these lemons were juiced.  NO juice is used to make limoncello, just the zest.  I peeled for this batch post lemonade juicing -- usually we do it the other way around: zesting for limoncello first; juicing for lemonade next. I recommend that order for maximum peel and less pith.  

After depositing all the peel in the alcohol, seal the glass container and put it in a dark cabinet.  Forget about it for two weeks, four weeks, six weeks -- I've never gone longer than that.  Of course, you may want to unseal it after two weeks and take a whiff.  It should smell very lemony and have a wonderful clear yellow hue -- liquid sunshine! One of the ways to see if your distillation is ready is to fish out a peel with a fork and snap it in half with your fingers.  If it breaks like a slightly soggy potato chip, the peel has given up its essence. 

Put the 5 cups of sugar and 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Stir to make sure the syrup is clear and turn off the heat.  Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.  Place a colander over your pot and pour the alcohol into the colandar so that all the peels are collected in the colander and the alcohol mixes with the syrup.  Stir to ensure the two are completely mixed.
Now it's time to filter the brew into bottles.  It's important to filter to create a clear brew.  I was given a bottle that wasn't filtered, and there's a tendency for browning if you don't get out the sediment.  Ick!  Because it takes time for the limoncello to pass through the filter, I like to do two bottles at once (and change the filter at least twice for each bottle).  Place a funnel spout into a bottle and line the funnel with wet unbleached coffee filter (wetting the filter first decreases loss of precious liquid sunshine!).  Begin ladling the limoncello into the funnel.  When the liquid starts to slow or stop passing through, change the filter.  
After every precious drop has found its way into a bottle,  it's time to stand back and admire your work.  

But you are not finished yet!  Proper brewing requires more setting time.  Place your bottles in a cool, dark place and let them rest for at least two weeks.  Then it's time to put one in the freezer . . . and have at the ready for all kinds of special events, like watching Project Runway, getting the kids to bed, and, my favorite, a nice sunset.


* I understand there are some puritanical places (usually where moonshine is made) that don't sell grain alcohol, use 2 liters of vodka in this case.  The Neapolitans use ALL grain alcohol (which is twice the proof of vodka).  I found this voltage a bit too high for me.  Of course, when using the pure vodka concoction, you should pour yourself a double. ; )

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Our family spent the long weekend in Paestum . . . visiting the beach, a winery, and the awe-inspiring Greek ruins from 6th century B.C.  We spent a whole morning exploring the extensive site which holds the remains of a town and three amazing temples, all three are now thought to be dedicated to female divines (always love that), specifically Athena and Hera.  We were early enough to have the site almost to ourselves . . . such a treat.

Just like the ruins of the Mayan, these amazing structures were abandoned and left untouched for centuries in marshland, until they were rediscovered and the site became an archeological attraction in the 1600s.  It is believed the city had waned and eventually was abandoned because of the encroachment of marshland and malaria as well as attacks by Saracen pirates during the 12th century A.D.

We spent a long time walking around the ruins that showed the further development of the Greek settlement as a Roman town,  with such features as an amphitheater, a bouleuterion, and public baths.
In the museum, we saw that some parts of one of the temples friezes included the exploits of Hercules . . .
so Quinn gave a little of the hero flavor to the site.
Of course, these notable features were easier to imagine because we had seen the well preserved examples at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  In Paestum, other than the temples, most of the remains exist only as stone outlines.
Felicity, a well-travelled American Girl Doll, joined us that morning.
But the temples are astonishing, unbelievably majestic survivors.  Inevitably, we spent much time just circling these massive testimonies to the divine industry of the Greeks -- Athena and Hera were well heralded here!

There is also a museum that houses many artifacts from the temples and the nearby necropoli, including the frescoed interior of a tomb with a diver, supposedly symbolizing the plunge from this world to the afterlife.  The metaphor was evocatively rendered.