Lemon-Flavored Torture

The liquor store has to be one of the most daunting places I go.

I mean, I can’t find my way around a home improvement store either, but this is a food blog, so there.

If you’re not a boozer, I apologize, but hope you’ll keep reading.

Sure, it’s easy if you’re after a specific brand, flavor, and bottle size. But if you go into any spirit store with the slightest bit of uncertainty you’ll need power that can only be supplied by the Statue of Liberty Vacuum Cleaner from Spaceballs to suck you back into a calm sense of reality.

You stare at the shelves wondering which maker is better. When you finally decide on a bottle, you realize that you’d have to mortgage the house to afford it. So do you get the lesser quality bottles at the bottom of the shelf or do you go for the high end top shelf variety?

What’s worse is that I’m usually drawn to the creative concoctions like the jars of moonshine filled with cherries or the vodkas made from potatoes.

And then there’s limoncello- that tall, thin, frosted yellow reminder of the trip to Italy that I’ll never be able to afford (see my top shelf reference above).

If it comes from Italy, I usually want it.

Limoncello is a liqueur (flavored liquor with added sugar) that’s traditionally made in Southern Italy with the Sorrento lemon. Its all about the peel, which is the keeper of the precious lemon oil.

It’s usually used as an after dinner drink to help digestion. In other words, you sip it while you wind down.

To buy it in the store, especially the good stuff, you’re back to the dilemma mentioned above. I’m not one to spend a fortune on something I just want to taste, and it doesn’t come in mini-bottles, so now what?!

My solution was to make it myself. Little did I know that it involved patience, my arch nemesis.

Limoncello requires at least a week of steeping and at least another week of aging.

The perk, though, is that you can do it your way. My way included using Meyer lemons, of course!

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Here’s the deal, though. You’re technically supposed to use organic lemons, because the vodka sucks everything out of the peel, and by everything I mean any pesticides. I chose to use regular, grocery store Meyer lemons at my own risk.

Here’s what you need:

10 Meyer lemons, washed
750ml good vodka, 80 proof or higher
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water

First, peel all 10 lemons.

The clincher here is that you must only get the yellow part. You don’t want the white, bitter pithe.

You have two choices:

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Use a serrated peeler…

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…or peel with a regular vegetable peeler and then use a paring knife to carve away the pithe.

I liked the serrated peeler method.

Put all the peels into a large mason jar or covered container and add the vodka.

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Use your favorite kind of vodka.

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Just make sure it’s good quality and at least 80 proof.

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Cover and put the container in a cool, dark place.

Let it sit for 2 weeks. That’s not a typo.

That agonizing period of time allows the vodka to pull out all the lemon oils and the bright yellow color.

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On the last day of that horrible stretch, make a simple syrup.

Combine the sugar and water in a pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils and the sugar is obviously dissolved, take the pot off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.

Open the steeping container. Take in the glorious aroma and try not to turn the jug into the ultimate sippy cup.

Line a strainer with 2 coffee filters or 2 pieces of cheese cloth.

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Set the strainer over a large measuring cup or pitcher. Pour the soaking peels into the strainer and allow it to drain. This will leave you with pure lemon liquor.

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Pour the liquor back into the original container and add the cooled syrup. Cover and shake.

Put the container back into the cool, dark place (I used my pantry).

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Let it sit.

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Wait.

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Wait some more.

It’s ready in a month. Yes, a month. I equate it to the wait for my college acceptance letters or the wait for the throne after downing a king-sized fountain drink and two refills. Agony.

The last day happened to be my 7-year anniversary at my current job. Coincidence? I think not.

Once again, refrain from treating the jug as a shot glass fit for an ogre.

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I funneled the Meyer limoncello into 3 bottles: one big one for us and two small ones for giveaways.

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It needs to be kept cold. I put the bottles in the freezer, but they started to solidify, so I went back to the fridge. Pop the bottle into the freezer 30-40 minutes before you plan on serving. The liqueur will be syrupy.

Serve in a chilled glass over crushed ice. You want about a half of a glass.

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I’m not a huge straight-up liquor fan. I can’t just sip vodka, bourbon or whiskey. So for me, the limoncello is a bit stout.

But the lemon flavor is tremendous. It’s just sweet enough. The Meyer lemon is sweet on its own, so any more sugar would’ve made the mixture too sugary.

When you raise the glass to your nose you get the bright, flowery aroma of the Meyer lemon.

Each sip is smooth, with a bit of a back bite from the vodka.

Some purists say you have to use 100-proof or higher grain alcohol, but all the reviews I’ve read allude to the fact that the grain alcohol is too harsh.

My plan is to mix limoncello with unsweetened tea for a killer Arnold Palmer. I think it would be great mixed with Prosecco, too.

You could also drizzle it over pound cake or vanilla gelato (or ice cream).

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My homemade version is cheaper (you get more bang for your buck) and all that peeling and waiting makes for a feeling that tops any top shelf variety out there.

Have you had limoncello? How did you do it? How would you describe it?

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This is just the beginning of my liquor-infusion excursion. What should I do next?

Tip: Use the juice from all those lemons to make my Tea Thyme Lemonade.

Here’s what you need:

Juice of 10 Meyer lemons
2 family-sized tea bags
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups water

Add the tea bags and thyme to 2 cups of water.

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Bring to a boil, let steep for 2 minutes. Remove the tea bags, pour in the sugar. Stir. Once the sugar is dissolved, strain the sweetened tea and thyme into the pitcher of lemon juice.

Add the remaining 2 cups of water, stir.

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Serve over ice.

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