Bottled Sunshine: Limoncello
January 13, 2008
I'm running an adult lemonade stand. But instead of a folding table squared off on a sun-soaked street corner, it's in my freezer. And to the usual ingredients of citrus, sugar, and water, I've added 151-proof Everclear. That's right my friends, I've started making my own limoncello, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. Sean inspired me, the Washington Post (sort of) informed me, and both Berkeley Bowl and BevMo supplied me.

Before I moved to California, lemons and summer clasped sticky hands as tightly as pig-tailed girls in flowered hats. I know I've mentioned this, but growing up in Minneapolis, we didn't exactly live seasonally. (Or like "typical" Midwesterners. Supposedly. At least, I've been informed that sporting a childhood filled with pomegranates, avocados, artichokes, and escargot wasn't exactly...normal for a Minnapolitan.) So, to Minnesotan me, lemons meant lemonade. When do you have lemonade? When you're thirsty. When are you most thirsty? When it's hot. When is it -- you get the idea. Here in California, lemons are prolific but they are also a sign of winter. (And what is winter opposite? I'm really stopping now.)

There are some (or one) that scoffed when I once chanced to murmur that strawberries are a summer fruit for me. "God," this person said, rolling her bloggery eyes over her pretentious glass of overpriced wine in a glass that would comfortably cradle a basketball, "Strawberries are NOTHING if not a harbinger of SPRING!" (She then started to go on at length about asparagus. It was at this point that I decided not to tell her I had only recently developed a taste for the spring spears, only because I wouldn't have been able to suffer one more drop of disdain without shoving a cork up her snooty nose.)

Anyway, once I got my transplanted brain around the concept that sunshine-bright fruit hanging heavy on a tree were supposed to evoke scarves, sweaters, and umbrellas, I realized how lucky I was to have lived in four different climates. Because of my unseasonable preconceptions, California citrus in winter means I get a warm sip of summer when the rest of the state is concentrating on sniffling, snotting, and cold-snapping.

Being rather short of funds this Christmas, I decided that I would give my local nearest and dearest the gift of bottled sunshine. Considering how soggy our state has become in the last few weeks, this decision was especially prescient of me. Not that we aren't parched for the dousing, mind you, but do we really need the power outages, storm-shattered windows, highway closings, and announcements of hurricane-force winds that just might blow adorable Car off one of our many bridges?

Taking Sean's advice with the zesting idea -- instead of paring off the peel from multiple (oh, so many pounds) of lemons -- I used my handy microplane for my Eureka-Meyer combo. However, my beautiful Berkeley Bowl Buddha's Hands proved way too wily for the likes of a modern object, so out came the sharp knives and quite a few hours of careful paring commenced. Those heady, burnished strips were then mixed with the rasped zest of Eurekas because (again taking Sean's advice) I didn't make pure Meyercello or pure Buddhacello. Sean's opinion on the subject is that the 'cellos need the strong backbone of the Eureka lemons to carry them through the thick surf of sugar syrup.

Since I was using the Washington Post-approved Everclear -- also the choice espoused by my chef in our Campania/Capri chapter -- I also followed the Post's timeline: Thirteen days of alcohol-zest maceration (agitate once a day), followed by straining, and then three weeks of the strained alcohol sitting with the sugar syrup (agitate twice a day). (The Post's article said their recipe would yield 3 1/4 quarts. Not exactly, because I got almost 3 3/4 quarts, filling two 1 1/2-liter Le Parfait jars and one 375-ml bottle.)

After all the maceration and agitation was over, I filled about thirteen pretty 8 1/2-ounce glass bottles, slapped a Grub Report-esque label on them, and handed out my first Lucianovic Limoncello vintage.

The Eureka-Meyer combo is fine, it was lemony and sweet and very passable. However, the Eureka-Buddha's Hand blows it out of the water with its haunting scent and flavor. The Buddha's Hand batch also has the slightest edge of bewitching bitterness about it -- probably the result of me not getting every bit of the white pith off the zest strips -- which actually balances the heavily sweet concoction quite nicely.

One of my first recipients of the Buddha's Hand bottles sent me this text-messaged reaction: "OMG, the limoncello?!? Girl, you've got mad skills!" And this is from a chick who has one of the most sensitive wine, whisky, and bourbon palates I know, so it's a huge compliment.

Next up? Well, as soon as I'm done preserving lemons in those Le Parfait jars, I'll be experimenting with Grapefruitcello and Ginger-Limoncello.

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