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. ; )


MuseBootsi said...

I always want to make this for gifts and then remember the 4-6 week shelf time! And the birthday/anniversary/christmas is tomorrow. Looks delicious!

Erzulimojo said...

Of course, you can gift someone with it once it's in the bottle and recommend they wait a couple of weeks before sampling. And truly I'm not sure there is that big a taste difference after the second set . . . but I respect tradition. In sum, you can probably get the whole process down to two weeks for gifts . . . but unfortunately, not one night.