Meyer Lemons Make Easy California-Style Limoncello

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in: Drinking w/recipe

California-style limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

In my front yard are two old, thorny Meyer lemon trees. I do nothing special for these trees, just let them have water and sunshine. And I have no control over the sunshine. Twice a year those dwarf trees are loaded with lemons. They cannot be more than 6 feet tall, but both produce hundreds of pounds of lemons each.  The weight comes from the abundance of juice each lemon holds.

Meyer lemons are very thin skinned with a fragrant, almost floral scent. The zest will make any dish pop with flavor. I use it instead of butter on steamed asparagus, sprinkle it into green salads for extra zip, and mix it into both sweet and savory types of dough.

The harvests are always so abundant I give bags of lemons to friends and neighbors, make lemonade, lemon curd and lemon cake. But most important, I make limoncello. I make lots of limoncello because I like to give some of it away. I also like to give some to myself.

But this limoncello is slightly different than the traditional Italian style of limoncello. I use the entire lemon in the initial infusing. Most recipes call for lemon zest only, but my Meyer lemons are so lovely I like to include the juice in the process. The majority of the flavor and aroma of the lemon is found in the zest, but the juice adds another layer of citrus intensity to the limoncello. The pith of the Meyer is also not as bitter as other lemons because it is a sweeter lemon. It is thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a Mandarin or other variety of orange.

Meyer lemons in vodka, becoming limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Meyer lemons in vodka, becoming limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Traditionalists would say this is not true limoncello, as my method is different, if only slightly so. I was even chastised by a 21-year-old from Belgium after I posted a picture of my quartered lemons steeping in vodka on my Instagram page. She wrote “You have to peel the lemons and put them in the alcohol (not the entire lemon).” Well, all right then.

Now that a girl from Europe young enough to be my daughter has tried to set me straight, I will continue to do it my way. The limoncello I make is absolutely delicious, so I see no need to alter my recipe, even if I am bucking tradition and offending Italians the world round.  If you make something that you like, even if you do not follow the traditional way of making it, it’s all right.

The lemons should be steeped for two weeks, but can be steeped up to four weeks. When ready to finish the limoncello, be sure to have a lot of clean bottles or jars to fill with the liquid gold. Or if keeping it all to yourself, one large jar.

Meyer Lemon Limoncello, California Style

Makes 2 to 3 quarts

Ingredients

10 to 15 Meyer Lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed

1 (750 milliliter) bottle vodka or Everclear (grain alcohol)

2 cups water

1½ to  2 cups raw sugar

1 cup honey

Equipment

1 large glass vessel to prepare the limoncello (large enough to accommodate 15 lemons and a bottle of alcohol)

Smaller bottles or jars to keep the finished limoncello (enough to accommodate about 3 quarts)

Directions

1. Cut the lemons into quarters and place into a large, clean jar.

2. Pour the bottle of vodka over the lemons.

3. Seal the jar and place it in a cool corner of the kitchen.

4. Let the lemons steep in the vodka for 2 to 4 weeks.

5. Strain the alcohol into a large bowl, reserve.

6. Place the lemons, water, sugar and honey into a large pot.

7. Turn the flame to low.

8. Using a potato masher, smash the lemons to release all their juices. Mash and stir until the sugar and honey are dissolved.

9. Strain the syrup, discard the lemons, and let the syrup cool.

10. Mix the reserved alcohol and the syrup.

11. Pour the limoncello into your jars and/or bottles. Place the bottles into the refrigerator, and let the limoncello rest for at least a day, preferably a week, before drinking.

Top photo: California-style limoncello. Credit: Cheryl Lee


Zester Daily contributor Cheryl D. Lee began her culinary training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then moved to New York, where among many roles she worked on Chef Emeril Lagasse's cooking show "Emeril Live," became the Assistant Test Kitchen Director at Woman's World magazine, and served as a chef and catering manager in the city's cafés. Returning to her native California, she has served as chef instructor at the California School of Culinary Arts and styled food on the sets of television's "Friends" and "The Bold and the Beautiful." She is the recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and chief dishwasher for her blog, Black Girl Chef's Whites, focusing on real food, developed by a classically trained chef, that anyone can make.

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Comments

Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious
on: 1/22/14
All right, you are ON Cheryl! I am going into the back yard to get some Meyer lemons and now all I need is a big-enough jar!
annabelle lenderink
on: 1/24/14
Me too. Already have a jar of the traditional variety going and was wondering about throwing some Meyers in there but instead will try your recipe. Thanx for the inspiration. New traditions are born every day.
Peggy
on: 2/8/14
This sounds sounds so wonderful! I try to drink lemon water as much as possible because of the health benefits, but oh my, what an evening refresher this would be! As I live in the Ozarks I'm not even sure I can find Meyer lemons, but if I can I want to make some. My question is though, how long will it keep if kept in air-tight jars and does it need to be kept refrigerated at all times if I use the air-tight jars?
Peggy
on: 2/8/14
Also, do you have a limoncello cake recipe? :)
Cheryl D. Lee
on: 2/8/14
I like to keep my limoncello in the refrigerator because it tastes better. I would be fine at room temperature for a short time because of the high amount of alcohol and sugar, but the flavor would suffer. I think you should keep it in the refrigerator. I don't have a limoncello cake recipe yet, but its probably about time that I do. Stay tuned!
Jack Shaw
on: 3/14/14
Am much taken with your approach to limoncello and will give it a try. Years in France with vacation jaunts to the Amalfi Coast developed ingrained practices with eaux de vie and limoncello. They tended to warm up too quickly so I moved all from the refrigerator to a permanent home in the freezer. That way you do not have to fuss with chilling glasses, and once poured it stays at appropriate temperature. Look forward to trying your limoncello champagne cocktail. Thank you..
Charles
on: 3/26/14
I use a standard Lemon Cake Mix, following the package directions, - EXCEPT- I substitute my CITRACELLO for the water. Works fine for me. My CITRACELLO is the same recipe as the Italian version, but I use a combination of, lemon, orange, kumquats, and grapefruit. I peel the fruit being careful to avoid the white pith. Otherwise I follow the usual method. I also store the finished product in the freezer.
Mathis
on: 5/12/14
Wondering how long you let it sit over the low flame while you squeeze the juice and mix in the sugar and honey … until it actually gets hot?
Larry
on: 6/14/14
Making this right now! I happened to score on a pile of Meyer Lemons and cannot wait for the finished product! We are two weeks into infusion. We'll let it steep for another week or two and then in to the bottles we go! I would love a great dessert recipe for the Limoncello.

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