The Best of Lemons: The Secret to Making Limoncello Now or Preserving the Fruit for Later


By the Staff

Most of us are bracing for the long, gray stretch of winter that can threaten to crush even the brightest spirit. But take heart, because we're just on the cusp of citrus season -- that time of year fresh oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemons are abundant for all sorts of treats that will hold winter blues at bay.

Citrus tip 1: Want oranges you can show off to guests? Try preserving them Portuguese style.

Citrus tip 2: Orange you glad you know how to make this citrusy cake?

Citrus tip 3: Want to grow your own citrus? It's easier than you think.


One of the best ways to take advantage of the season is to make limoncello, the appealingly tart-sweet lemony beverage that can be served as an aperitif, an after-dinner drink, or, mixed, perhaps, with bubbly Prosecco, as a midafternoon pick-me-up.

Limoncello is actually one of a whole class of liqueurs that were, and sometimes still are, made by thrifty Italian home cooks in order to have something strong, sweet and reinforcing to offer guests after a meal. Called rosoli (the plural of rosolio), they are served at weddings, baptisms and especially funeral receptions when this kind of pick-me-up (tiramisu) seems particularly called for.

Fragrant with mint, bay leaves, basil, coffee, citrus or green walnuts (called nocino), these liqueurs are displayed in crystal decanters handed down from mother to daughter, along with the recipes to fill them.

If you feel timid about the alcohol, be advised that once 100-proof vodka has been mixed with an equal quantity of simple syrup, the proof drops to 50, meaning it's about 25 percent alcohol, stronger than wine but nowhere near as strong as most spirits.


Serve limoncello well chilled, preferably in tiny glasses. Makes about 1½ quarts.


8 large lemons, preferably organic or unsprayed

1 (750 ml) bottle of 100-proof vodka

3 cups water (use bottled spring water if your tap water is full of chlorine and other minerals)

1¼ cups granulated sugar


1. If you can't find unsprayed lemons, scrub the lemons with soap and water to rid them of any pesticide or wax residue, then rinse and dry them thoroughly.

2. Carefully peel the yellow zest from the lemons in thin strips, leaving the white part behind. (You won't need the lemon juice for this recipe. If you don't have any immediate use for it, squeeze the peeled lemons and freeze the juice in ice cube tray so that you have a tablespoon of lemon juice available whenever you need it.)

3. Put the lemon rinds in a large glass jar with the vodka, screw the lid on tightly, and set aside in a cool (but not refrigerated) place for two to three weeks.

4. Strain the vodka, discarding the lemon rinds. Bring water to a boil and add the sugar, dissolving it completely. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then mix with the strained vodka. Bottle the limoncello in glass bottles or jars (canning jars are fine), cap them and set aside for 24 hours, then refrigerate.

    Preserving Meyer lemons

    One of the delicacies native to the Ojai, Calif., region is the Meyer lemon. Cubes from this special lemon variety are worth their weight in gold in the dead of a Northeast winter, so many are shipped to eager shoppers across the country. Others will be crafted into cocktails, squeezed into salad dressing or sliced thinly, brushed with simple syrup and candied in the oven to garnish the cocktails, of course.

    One of the best ways to keep the Meyer lemon alive year round, without spending $7 a pop at Dean & Deluca, is by preserving it in salt and spices. Ground into pesto, chopped up and served alongside a vegetable couscous or stirred into risotto, its subtle, floral citrus flavor is amplified by the seasonings and will keep in your fridge for up to six months. It'll take about four lemons to fill a 12-ounce mason jar.

    1. Slice each lemon into eight wedges and remove any visible seeds.

    2. Fill a clean, scrubbed jar with a tight seal one-quarter full with coarse or kosher salt. You can also add other spices, such as whole cloves, dried chilis, smoked peppercorns and a bay leaf.

    3. Tightly pack the lemon wedges together on top of the salt and spices

    4. Press down with a fork after each layer to release some of the juices until you reach the very top of the jar.

    5. Tightly seal the jar, shake vigorously for a few seconds to distribute some of the salt, then invert and place in direct sunlight.

    6. Flip the jar every two or three days for two weeks, or until about 2 inches of brine accumulates. Move the jar to the refrigerator at that point and use within six months.

    Also fresh on Zester Daily:

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