Great Gifting: Homemade Limoncello

“Pure sunshine in a bottle.”

That’s my favorite description of Limoncello, the refreshing and iconic drink of the Italian Coast. Hubby and I fell in love with the lemon liquor during our honeymoon in Italy. After each dinner (and occasionally even lunch) our cameriere (waiter) would deliver the delightful chilled shot glass of brilliant yellow liquid. Whether sipped or shot, a glass of this elixir leaves you with a slight afterglow, as if you have been kissed by the sun.

Since we couldn’t stay in Italy forever (oh, how I wish we could have) we had to hunt down our new favorite after-dinner digestivo stateside.  Ten years ago, that wasn’t so easy.  Luckily, a co-worker’s Italian Mamagraced us with her family recipe. Making limoncello became Hubby’s passion, nearly an obsession, as he tried to duplicate the taste he so fondly remembered from our lazy days in Italian cafes.

Don’t worry, we shared. Limoncello became a holiday tradition. Friends and relatives threatened to withhold our gifts if we didn’t give them another years supply under the tree. Yeah, it was that good.

When we bought our home years ago, one of the first garden purchases we made was our own little lemon tree. Kept in a huge pot by the pool, our little tree produces a healthy crop each year. As soon as they are ripe and ready, it’s time to make the cello. Hubby zests and I save all the juice and freeze it for later use. A few years later, we added another tree (which finally produced fruit for the first time this year!)

I’m going to share our TOP SECRET recipe with you. This recipe makes quite a big batch — enough to last you a year (unless you have a wicked drinking problem) and to share. Make it. Put it in a cute bottle. Heck, you could put it in a plastic water bottle. Your friends will LOVE you…

Italian Limoncello

1 kilo lemons – 2.2 lbs (about 10)
1 liter grain alcohol*
1.25 liters water
700 grams (3 1/2 cups) sugar

Step 1

  • Using a zester or a fine grater, remove only the colored part of the lemon rind. Avoid the white pith just below — it is bitter and will change the flavor. (This part is messy, but your whole house will smell like a citrus grove.)
  • Pour the grain alcohol into a large glass jug or jar (must have a lid to seal). Add the zested rind. Let it sit for four days to two weeks at room temperature. (Yes, it must be glass. Large mason jars or recycled gallon sized wine bottles work well. The citric acids will corrode plastic.)

Step 2 (four days to two weeks later)

  • In a large pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool.
  • Layer some cheesecloth over a mesh strainer and set over a large bowl.  Pour the grain/rind carefully into the strainer, filtering out all of the rind. Pour the (now vibrant yellow) alcohol back into the glass jar.
  • Add in cooled sugar water.
  • Store in glass or distribute into smaller, decorative bottles. Keep servings in the freezer —it is best ice cold.

*Many recipes call for vodka, but we prefer grain. Higher alcohol content = no chance of it freezing when you store it in the freezer. But if you can ‘t find grain (I’m told some states won’t sell it?) you can use vodka.

*We don’t waste the lemons after they’ve been zested. We freeze the juice in ice cube trays and save it for cooking and lemonade.

*Don’t worry about letting it sit. The longer you wait to drink it, the better it tastes. But make sure to drink it ice cold.

As I stated before, this makes a fabulous gift. You can find decorative bottle many places such as Ross, World Market, Pier 1, TJ Maxx, etc. You can also recycle glass beverage bottles for a simple and inexpensive presentation—the Sweetleaf Tea bottles are the perfect size and the caps even state “Homemade Goodness”

I’ve made many lables over the years, but this is a scan of my original Limoncello tag I’ve used for over ten years. Maybe it’s time to update, but I’ll always love it.

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Now, make go some Limoncello. Take two shots and email me in the morning.

If you do any more I don’t want to hear from you (and don’t blame your hangover on me).

{that’s “cheers” in Italian, you know…}

8 thoughts on “Great Gifting: Homemade Limoncello

  1. Pingback: Cranberry Orange Bread Recipe - Great Homemade Gifts |

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