Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Lemon Frenzy #1
Planting those Meyer lemon bushes eleven years ago is really paying off. We get huge crops several times a year. The Meyer lemon is rarely available in your local grocery, so growing your own is the best way to be assured a plentiful supply at low cost. Many greengrocers and organic food stores, such as Whole Foods, do carry them, but they can be pricey. Compared to the common Eureka lemon, the Meyer has thinner and softer skin, is juicier, and is slightly sweeter. With hints of tangerine flavor, it makes for a fine lemon curd, lemon meringue pie, lemon bars…I could go on and on.
This December, with a huge batch ready to pick, we had our designs set on making Limoncello for Christmas. Every year, we try to make a portion of handcrafted gifts, usually food. A bit of research found us with an easy way to use up the abundance of lemons. Not very time consuming, the Limoncello recipe can yield good bang for the buck, as well as putting smiles on the recipients’ faces.
We made two batches, two different recipes, two different base liquors, with a modification here and there. I sat down one day during a football game and zested all the lemons. Took a while, but was easy enough. The combined liquor and the lemons sit around for a couple of weeks, melding flavors. Then a basic simple syrup is made to cut the alcohol and provide the sweet thickness common to Limoncello. Packaging is pretty simple, in various-sized bottles collected or bought, and topped off with a ribbon and special label that my designer daughter whipped up, et voila!—a bottle of tasty liqueur is born.
The first recipe we used has an everclear base. Pure grain alcohol provides the punch behind the lemons.
20 lemons, with skins cleaned
2 - 750ml Everclear (150 proof or above)
5 cups sugar
6 cups water
Zest the lemons with a vegetable peeler, making sure that no white pith is discernable. Place the lemons in a large glass jar or crock, add the vodka, and cover the jar. Let this jar set undisturbed at room temperature for no less than 10 days. When ready to proceed, combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until thickened, approximately 10 minutes. Take off the heat and cool to room temperature. Add syrup to vodka, stir well. Let sit for one hour. Strain the liquid and bottle it. Best to store this in the freezer.
The second recipe is based on standard vodka. You don’t have to use Grey Goose or other costly vodka. A mid-ranged vodka will do just fine, and if you really want to experiment, get the cheap stuff and see how it compares. As with the first recipe, we doubled the batch, but we also made a secret modification to this version, which increased the flavor. (We might share it if you ask nicely.)
15 Meyer lemons, with skins cleaned
2 - 750ml 100-proof vodka
4 cups sugar
5 cups water
Zest the lemons with a vegetable peeler, making sure that no white pith is discernable. Place the lemons in a large glass jar or crock, add the vodka, and cover the jar. Let this jar set undisturbed at room temperature for no less than 10 days and no more than 40 days. When ready to proceed, combine sugar and water in a saucepan and cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Take off the heat and cool to room temperature. Add syrup to vodka, cover, and let sit for no less than 10 days and no more than 40 days. At this point you will strain the liquid and bottle it. Best to store this in the freezer.
We made several gift baskets with small liqueur glasses, a bottle of the Limoncello, a small package of homemade biscotti, and a few beautiful fresh lemons. And given that we had made double batches of each, we bottled small gift bottles that we handed out as parting gifts for guests over the holidays.
Now, it looks like I have 6-8 weeks before the next batch of Meyers ripens. And what a whopper it will be.