Gilding the Lily since 2006

Meyer limoncello

I know this isn’t quite the way the Italians do it,  but I reckon they might if they got their hands on a bushel of sweet Meyer lemons. I don’t have anything against Sorrento lemons, mind, I just think these smooth little globes of sunshine might have one up on their Mediterranean counterparts.

For starters, Meyer lemons have that tingly, sour kiss of a lemon, but without the bitter lip-biting of those less experienced in the art of making out. Their rinds are satiny, delicate and taut; unlike the clunky, pithy Eureka, covered in all those unfortunate pores.

Normally, limoncello would be made with just the zest of a lemon (and grain spirits, sugar and water – see for yourself in this recipe published on the Washington Post), but using whole Meyer lemons yields a product that is just as fine as a classic Italian limoncello. I did it a little differently: I quartered about a dozen or 16 Meyer lemons and pushed them into a 2-qt jar, then poured a whole 750-mL bottle of grain alcohol over the top. I shook everything up, then put it in a cool, dark place for a month or so (visiting every so often to give things another shake). Then I poured everything into a strainer (saving the liquid) and dumped the lemons into a pot on the stove with about 4 cups of water, 3 cups of sugar and a cup of honey for that sensuous fuzzy bee flavor. I turned on the stove and simmered this lemon mash for a few moments (maybe 5 or 10 minutes) while the sugar dissolved, crushing and juicing the lemons into a wort-of-sorts with a potato smasher. Finally, I strained the lemon-sugar-water mixture into the infused alcohol, stirred everything together and strained into growlers.

Even though I made this because I was at the end of a 20lb case of Meyer lemons and the skin on my hands itched and burned from a two-day marmalade marathon, I would buy lemons just for this purpose. Those lucky you that have trees in their yards, this is the laziest way to use up a lot of lemons at once – only marginally more work than shoveling them into your compost. If it were summertime (alas, it would never be when lemons are in season), I might toy with the idea of adding a sprig or two of lavender to the bottles. I bet a fresh bay leaf would be lovely, too. Maybe I’ll add one or the other later.

Limoncello is a gorgeous apertif (served straight from the freezer), or it can be used to fortify a glass of lemonade. I bet it’d be nice added to a glass of iced hibiscus tea. Shoot, I might just turn up the heat, have a glass and fan myself languidly while staring out the window and fantasizing about living in a warmer clime.

My stars.