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Sunshine in a bottle

Fall is nearing; I can feel it. The crape myrtles are beginning to bloom down on Matheson Street; an unmistakable sign that fall is on the way. Their bloom bursts from the tips of the branches in shades of scarlet and pink. As beautiful as they are, lining the street, directing me toward home, I frown at them for being here so soon as the daylight dwindles behind me. And that makes me sad.

Fortunately it’s only September, so we SHOULD still have at least another month of summer left (although we’ve hardly had a summer to speak of around here; I’ve worn a jacket more days then not). So I guess I should count my blessings that there is still sun and we haven’t drifted into the gloom of winter yet.

So when life doesn’t give you lemons, you steal them off your neighbor’s tree.

And then you make limoncello. (But start before the summers end)

The nice thing about my neighbors lemon tree is that it is a Eureka Lemon that tends to produce an abundance of softball-sized lemons with fragrant, candy-like peels, perfect for making limoncello. The not so nice thing is that most of them hang on their property, many of which reside in the upper limbs.

I had made limoncello once before (also made with neighbor lemons) and it turned out fantastic. I knew it had something to do with the lemons. Store-bought just wouldn’t do, nor would the extra expense of Meyers (plus Meyers are good for juice, not for skin – which is what I need to make a good limoncello). The Eureka’s offer perfectly perfumed peels to give the limoncello a bright lemon taste.

I needed to get some more of those lemons if I wanted the limoncello to be perfect again. So I stretched and jumped and used my go-go-gadget arm (AKA a rake) to get hold of the lemons that were out of reach. I turned my shirt into a pouch and loaded up my bounty and made a break for the kitchen.

Drinking limoncello makes me dream of being on the Amalfi coast. And I quite literally dream. I’ve never actually been to the Amalfi coast; hell I’ve never even been to Italy. So if you’re looking for a belated birthday gift or maybe Christmas gift, or just feeling generous, plane tickets are welcomed. I can email you my address.

And I’ve been waiting and dreaming for the opportunity to taste my newest batch that has been sitting patiently in my closet for the last 2 1/2 months.

I got on this limoncello kick about two or three years ago and so I started sampling various recipes from local chefs and producers. The yellow nectar is actually a fairly recent invention. It originated on the isle of Capri in the late 19th century. Vincenza Canale, an innkeeper there, treated her guests to a homemade liqueur as an after-dinner “digestivo.” Despite its past, limoncello was first trademarked by Massimo Canale (of the same family) who started a small handmade production of limoncello in 1988.

Drinking limoncello is the sensory equivalent of eating lemon meringue in a lemon grove – a powerful potion that makes you dream of sun-drenched afternoons on the Amalfi coast. It is sunshine in a bottle. It’s because of this that I don’t drink limoncello solely as a digestif; rather I drink it any time, all the time; in cocktails or with a few ice cubes and a splash of soda water. And with only a month of pure, warm sunshine left, at least I’ll have limoncello to in the winter months to remind me of summer.

The preparation is easy but meticulous. But after nearly 3 months, your efforts will be rewarded.

Limoncello

Ingredients:

*One Bottle (1.5L) Good quality vodka (or one bottle 750ml good vodka and one 750ml bottle of everclear or grain alcohol)

*12-15 large lemons

* 3 cups water

*3 cups pure cane white sugar (this will give thin syrup consistency; if you prefer a thicker syrup, experiment with increasing your sugar by 1 cup)

Other things you will need:

  • Vegetable peeler
  • Gallon-size glass jar that has a way to seal the lid air-tight
  • Large supplies of unbleached cone coffee filters
  • Measuring cup or ladle
  • Large pitcher (gallon size)

Day 1

Pour the bottle of vodka into the gallon jar. Clean and dry the lemons. Peel just the yellow part of the skin off the lemons. Try to get none of the white pith on the back of the peels (this causes bitterness in the finished liqueur). Try to make the peel pieces as large as possible, because this will make the straining process easier. Put the lemon peels in the gallon jar and stir gently. Cover tightly and put away in a cool dark place.

Days 8, 22, & 36

Gently stir lemon peels to refresh exposure to alcohol. Return to cool, dark place.

Sometime between day 40-43

Gently stir lemon peels. Scoop out one of the larger peels and test flexibility. If peel breaks like a potato chip, you will move on to the next step. If peel is still flexible enough to bend without breaking, return to cool dark place and try again in another week.

If ready to go, proceed to step two:

Dissolve sugar in water and bring to boil over high heat. Boil for 5 minutes.Set syrup aside to cool. It must be room temp before adding to infusion.

Use a slotted spoon to gently scoop lemon peels from the infusion and discard. Using the ladle and coffee filters, slowly strain infusion through filters into large pitcher (moisten the filters before the straining, you will not waste liqueur by soaking it into the filter). The filters will clog quickly and you will use many of them. Use each filter only as long as it is still easily filtering or you will spend much more time on the step then you’ll want to.

Rinse and dry gallon jar that was used during infusion.

Return filtered infusion to jar and add COOLED syrup.

Return to cool dry place to begin mellowing process that combines alcohol infusion with syrup to create Limoncello. The longer it mellows, the smoother the limoncello will taste. It will be hard not to sample it immediately, so maybe wait at least another two weeks before serving.

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