When Life Hands You Lemon Peels, Make Limoncello

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Easy-to-make limoncello calls for a mere four ingredients, one of which is water.

While I anticipated my annual ritual of preserving all the lemons this year, my tree had other plans. It produced only small lemons and not many of them. So I asked around for lemons—here in Northern California, they grow all over the place—and a friend gave me about 30 pounds of Eureka lemons.

Eureka lemons

Reduce food waste: Find a use for the juice

I made both limoncello and preserved lemons with my bounty. Typically, limoncello calls for the peels only. Preserved lemons call for whole lemons plus lemon juice from extra lemons. So that leaves behind a bunch of peels—perfect for limoncello.

By making limoncello and preserved lemons at the same time, I use up more of the whole lemon and waste none of the good stuff. If you have extra rinds on your hands from preserving lemons and you’ve already made vats of limoncello, you can cut those rinds into smaller pieces and stuff them into your jars of preserved lemons for bonus pieces. But enough about the preserved lemons. Today, limoncello enjoys its day in the spotlight.

I spent several hours prepping all these lemons

The lemons

Because the skins of fruit and non-organic vegetables generally harbor more pesticide residue than the flesh, I consume organic lemons only. I also prefer lemons without wax—the food-grade coating that gives citrus that glossy, cosmetically altered appearance that you will never see on citrus growing on trees.

The alcohol

I tested two different brands of vodka for this. They both made great limoncello—none of which will go to waste—but the batch made with the expensive vodka (Grey Goose that someone gave me) goes down much smoother than the cheaper vodka (Tito’s that MK bought to make vodka sauce), which comes as no surprise.

After I made my limoncello, two colleagues told me separately that it tastes best when made with neutral-tasting Everclear, which apparently extracts the most flavor from the lemon peels. But if Everclear makes even more delicious limoncello, that sounds dangerous! You forget this has alcohol in it, it tastes so good. So drink only small amounts! You’ve been warned.

lemon peels steeping in vodka to make limoncello
Lemon peel steeping in alcohol

The simple sugar syrup

The sugar syrup I added to the strained vodka had a ratio of one cup of sugar to one cup of water. If you’d prefer a less-potent drink, increase the amount of sugar syrup you add to it. If you want it sweeter, increase the amount of sugar in the sugar syrup.

The finished limoncello

Enjoy small amounts of limoncello chilled, served in small glasses that you’ve also chilled (in the freezer). I plan on baking limoncello biscotti with some of this. MK made limoncello lemon bars last week. I wish I had taken a picture of those—they looked so professional and tasted so good—but we decimated them immediately before I could grab my phone. Did I mention this is strong? Because I will bake with my limoncello, I made it quite strong. I want to be able to taste it.

bottled and chilled limoncello
I store my limoncello in the freezer
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Limoncello

Ingredients

  • 7 lemons, medium size
  • 500 ml vodka or Everclear
  • 1 cup granulated sugar or to taste
  • 1 cup water or to taste

Instructions

  • Scrub the lemons well. With a vegetable peeler, being careful not to remove the bitter white pith, remove strips of lemon peel. Place in a clean quart (4-cup) jar.
  • Pour vodka or Everclear into the jar, ensuring the alcohol covers the peels. Seal the jar. Let the mixture sit for from 4 days to a month. (See recipe Note.)
  • Line a sieve with a thin cloth and place the sieve over a medium bowl. Pour the contents of the jar into the cloth-lined sieve to strain the alcohol. Compost the lemon peels.
  • In a pot, combine the water and sugar over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool and combine with the alcohol. Bottle and chill.
  • Store in the refrigerator for about a month or in the freezer for a year.

Notes

  1. The longer the alcohol and lemon peels sit, the stronger the lemon flavor. However, the alcohol extracts most of the lemon essence within the first several days.
  2. Add more simple sugar syrup to the lemon-infused alcohol for a less-potent drink. If desired, adjust the amount of sugar as well.

11 Replies to “When Life Hands You Lemon Peels, Make Limoncello”

  1. Wow I remember I tried limoncello when I was in Milan for the first time. It tastes great! But to me Mirta tasted even better. Have you ever tried Mirta? It’s also organic and 100 percent natural

    1. Hi Marta,
      You had me at “Limoncello in Milan.” No I haven’t tried Mirta. Please tell me more!
      ~ Anne-Marie

      1. It’s hard to describe. I just know that it’s all about berries. At first, it tastes like medicine but than you realize how deep the taste is!

      2. Thank you! I will look into this 🙂

  2. I happen to have Ever-clear on hand, bought for COVID-19; to make hand sanitizer.
    This recipe sounds great, I am in Florida we have lemons here too. Plus, Oranges, Tangerines Tangelos, Grapefruit, Limes, etc. Have you made infused white Vinegar with the peels? Add Cloves, Anise, Cardamon, etc.

    1. Hi Trudy,
      I read about the run on Everclear last year! Sales skyrocketed. This is a great way to use the rest up. I’d love to try this with all the citrus you have. Lucky you! I have infused vinegar with peels for a cleaner but not with cloves, etc. That must smell heavenly.
      Enjoy!
      Anne-Marie

  3. I made Limoncello with Everclear a long time ago. It was like fire water – really difficult to get down. Just putting it up to your face the fumes were almost overcoming! You have inspired me to try it with vodka this time. Will let you know how it goes.

    1. Wow! Thank you for the feedback on the Everclear, Janet. I hope you like the vodka better. I’m not a big fan of vodka but I like this.
      Enjoy!
      Anne-Marie

  4. Kathy Cronk says: Reply

    I have never had Limoncello before; once it is made, how do you recommend drinking it? Over ice or?

  5. Lidia Bastianich has an amazing limoncello tiramisu in one of her books. I get rave reviews ever time I make it

  6. Thank you for sharing an Italian recipe 🙂

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