Adventures in Limoncello

A month ago, I decided to make limoncello. I’d never had it before, so I didn’t know what it was supposed to taste like, really. I knew that the Trader Joe’s version of it was a pretty yellow color, almost radioactive. Why not? What did I have to lose, besides a few lemons and some cheap vodka?

A few years ago, I tried making bitters for Christmas, to make my cookie plates more festive. I had grand ideas of including recipes for Old Fashioneds, of turning into the kind of girl who likes whisky and who can stun you with whisky knowledge. Well, it turns out I am not that girl, and I can talk to you all day about beer– but whisky just tastes like old bananas to me. Actually, I do like whisky as a baking ingredient– just not to drink.

So, because of my failed bitters experiment (it came out fine, but I didn’t like it) I had a feeling going into this limoncello thing that I should just buy myself a chemistry set and have some fun, or maybe brew some ale instead. But I’m stubborn. I don’t even do what I tell myself to do!

I liked the sound of this recipe from Gizmodo (of all places). The part that convinced me was when the author said it was an old Sicilian technique, to suspend the lemons over the vodka. I’m a sucker for Italian grandmothers, and grandparent-era cooking in general.

I went to the hardware store, bought the biggest glass jar I could find, then followed the super easy directions.


My tree's lemons are rather huge. The jar is actually pretty big!
My tree’s lemons are rather huge. The jar is actually pretty big!

The jar of vodka, lemons suspended suggestively in cheesecloth, sat quietly for a month. I taped the date on the lid so I wouldn’t forget what day I started my little project. And that was it. It was too easy! I mean, seriously, the most difficult part was making sure the lemons didn’t slip into the vodka, and that wasn’t hard at all. A friend assured me via Facebook that it really was that easy, and that I wasn’t doing it wrong. He’s an oenologist, so I believed him.

Exactly one month later, I carefully opened the jar, lifted the now soft lemons out, and followed the rest of the Gizmodo recipe. I made the mistake of tasting it before it chilled and didn’t like it. Warm, sweet vodka, anyone? It tasted like medicine. I poured it back into its original vodka bottle and there was a cup left over– so I gave it to some friends who had just returned from a long car-trip. That’s the perfect time for a swig or two, right? They texted me back a few hours later and said it was amazing. My teetotaler mom came over and snagged a few shots from me too, and she ended up waxing rhapsodically about the Italian side of our family.

I was beginning to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t try this limoncello stuff again.

It's not as yellow as the prebottled stuff, but I think it's pretty.
It’s not as sunshiny yellow as the prebottled stuff, but I think it’s pretty.

Finally, my husband came home. He proceeded to get out two tumblers and pour the limoncello into them. “It took me a month to make that, dude!” I squealed, and I poured one tumbler through a funnel, right back into the bottle, then split the other tumbler between us. I don’t think he realized it was still almost straight vodka. Or maybe he did? We’ll never know.

It was actually a bit sweet for me, so I squeezed in some lemon juice, added some ice, and… you know what? It was pretty darned good. I will tell you this: It will not take as long for us to drink it as it did to make it. Now I’m even wondering, lime-cello? Pompelmo-cello? Come at me, citrus!


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