When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello

From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series

Part 5: When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello

or How to Make Your Own Limoncello

Finally, we are here at the good bit!  Now that you have successfully grown bushels and bushels of beautiful lemons what are you going to do with them all?

Lovely lemons in a basket

Lovely lemons in a basket

Quite the high class problem, I’ll admit.  Of course there are myriad options when it comes to using lemons as they are just so versatile.  Lemon chicken, lemon meringue pie, lemon curd (a favourite of mine), salmon with lemon, capers and rosemary, spicy lemon garlic shrimp … the list goes on and on.  But my favourite thing to do with lots of lemons, particularly Meyer Lemons, is to make Limoncello.

Limoncello di Capri.   'Nuf said.

Limoncello di Capri.  ‘Nuf said.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liquour produced mainly in Southern Italy but particularly in the area around the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.  It is made by steeping the lemon peels in alcohol for quite a long time, then mixing the resultant yellow liquid with a simple syrup made from sugar and water.  It is traditionally served ice cold as an after dinner digestif and is quite simply, heavenly.

There were stores everywhere in Capri selling Limoncello, stores literally packed to the rafters with the sweet little bottles.  Clearly, some were more tourist cliche than Southern Italian chic but charming none the less.

Tourist cliche

Tourist cliche

Limoncello for sale

Limoncello for sale in Capri

Quick Quiz: What is my favourite way to enjoy limoncello?

Is it –

  1. Ice cold straight from the freezer?
  2. Mixed with ice and soda?
  3. Drizzled over vanilla icecream or lemon sorbet and fresh strawberries?  or
  4. All of the above?

That’s right!  All of the above.  You’ve gotta try it.

OK, recipe time.  I like to use Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe here.  She has a bunch of videos on how to make it, too, so you can’t go wrong.  It is so simple.

Limoncello Recipe


  • 10 lemons (unwaxed, organic. Meyer lemons are best)
  • 1 (750ml) bottle vodka
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (white sugar)


Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use – maybe lemon curd).  Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.  Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher.  Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap.  Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Cool completely.  Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture.  Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.  Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer.  Discard the peels.  Transfer the limoncello to bottles.  Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.


NB: I store my bottles of limoncello in the freezer.  They last forever in there, it seems.

Homemade limoncello - this is Giada's version

Homemade limoncello – this is Giada’s version

I love to make this for gifts as they present so very well.  A pretty bottle, a pretty label and a pretty swingtag with some suggested uses makes a perfect gift.  I like to use the tall glass bottles with the stoppers at the top, like these from World Market.

Perfect glass bottles for Limoncello

Perfect glass bottles for Limoncello

Now, what if you want to make the BEST Limoncello?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  While researching this post I came across another technique I’m dying to try used by Franny’s in Brooklyn.  The tutorial is irresistably entitled “How to Make the Best Limoncello You’ve Ever Had” – they’ve totally suckered me in.  Here, instead of peeling the lemons and steeping the peels in the alcohol, they suspend 2 whole lemons in cheesecloth above the vodka allowing the alcohol vapours to macerate the lemons to extract their oils without the bitterness of the pith.

Lemons suspended over the vodka to make limoncello.

Lemons suspended over the vodka to make limoncello at Franny’s.

Compelling, no?  Apparently, this is an old Sicilian technique.  I’m totally gonna try it.  Maybe I’ll do both versions and do a side-by-side blind tasting.  Sounds fun, right?  Wanna come to my house for a When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello soiree?  I should make this an annual summer event.

The End of the Series

And thus concludes my When Life Gives You Lemons… series.  So, Dear Readers, what did you think?  Did you stick with me through the whole thing?  I really hope you have enjoyed the process as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you.  I also hope you might try growing your own citrus and making your own limoncello!  I, for one, am looking forward to trying the new limoncello technique sometime soon.  Do let me know how your lemon adventures go!


When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello: A Series

or How to Fall in Love with Lemons in Capri, Then Grow your Own Lemons to Make Your Own Limoncello in an Effort to Pretend You are Back In Capri.

But first, a note to my Dear Reader:  My When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello post turned out to be quite the tome, what with all the who, what, when and why, so I have broken it in to manageable chunks.  A series, if you will, in 5 parts.

  1. When Life Gives You Lemons … Go to Capri
  2. When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons
  3. When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemons
  4. When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside
  5. When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Limoncello

I hope you’ll forgive my self-indulgence and stick with me through this series.

Part 1: When Life Gives You Lemons … Go to Capri

I love Capri.  And I love lemons.  In fact, I love lemons because I went to, and fell in love with, Capri.  True story.

Some years ago now my sweet husband and I found ourselves on the beautiful Isle of Capri.  Capri, Sorrento and the whole Amalfi Coast are like something from a fairytale.  Every vista is breathtakingly beautiful, without exception.  The greens are exceptionally vivid and lush.  The azure blue of the sky and water so azure-y and blue-y.  The food, incredible.  The people, deeply content.  It is as though it really isn’t real and yet … it is!  So amazing.  If you ever get the chance to see that part of the world don’t think twice – Just Go!

By the waterfront in Capri (swoon)

By the waterfront in Capri (swoon)

One things you’ll see all through the Region of Campania is lemon trees.  They were everywhere and thriving like nothing I’d seen before.  The scent of citrus wafting in the breeze was quite intoxicating.  Heavenly.  Right then and there I fell in love with Capri and with lemon trees.

Lemon trees are everywhere in Capri.

Lemon trees are everywhere in Capri. Look at this fella peeking his head over the side of the wall to see who is walking past (too anthropomorphism-y? My apologies).

My favourite lemon trees were the potted ones planted in the most gorgeous, brilliant blue pots.  I vividly remember the contrast between the deep green of the waxy leaves, the deep golden yellow of the fruit, and the brilliant, shiny blue of the ceramic pots.  Magical.  Optical poetry.  Or so I thought…

You see, I wanted to show you, Dear Readers, what I mean.  Show you my original inspiration.  But as I search through my photos of Capri and the Bay of Naples I can’t find any pictures of Caprian lemon trees in blue pots.  Wait.  What?  I know.  I’ve been looking now for longer than I care to admit, at home and on the interwebz, and yet there are no lemon trees in blue pots at all.   At least not genuine Italian ones.  There are plenty of blue sky and water behind lemon trees, which may or may not be potted in terracotta pots.  See …..

Lemon tree by the harbour at Capri

Lemon tree by the harbour at Capri (pic from Agnes Borowik at dragonfruitphotographyblog.com)

And yet I vividly remember the yellow and blue!  So visually stunning.  So inspiring and yet … non-existant it appears.

What??!!  My whole story here has been built on a lie, one I’ve been living since coming back from Italy and buying a lemon tree and a blue pot!  I am having a moment here, people.  Oh. Em. Gee.

But I’m telling you, gorgeous lemon trees in blue pots are stunning.  And yet so simple!  And thusly inspired by my trip to Capri I wanted to recreate/fabricate the same feel here at home.

The only hiccup is that I don’t live in Capri (sadly).  I live in Charlotte, NC, USDA Zone 7b which is not citrus friendly.  Our winters get too cold and citrus trees will not survive the freezes we get.  Gah!  Why??  Why???? (shakes fist at the sky).  There had to be a way.

Well there is!  But you have to commit to the process, and kinda accept that your ever patient spouse is gonna think you’re a little coo-coo for coco-puffs.  You see, in order to grow citrus north of Florida you must grow your fabulous lemon trees in a pot (blue, of course) which has to be brought inside in late Fall to over-winter protected from the cold and frosts.  I don’t think it is a big deal at all to have such a gorgeous plant AND grow lemons in my own yard, but in all honesty, my husband thinks I’m a little nuts for having to baby my lemon tree and to move it in and out twice a year despite it’s considerable heft.  And additionally, for the few months temps are too cold for it outside when we park our cars in the garage we have to navigate around toys, bikes AND citrus to get inside the house.  I can see his point.  But it makes me happy and reminds me of our fabulous trip to Capri.  (Swoon)

Have you been to Capri?  On my bloggy travels I came across Kelly and Dan and their fabulous blog, Foodie Lawyer, who tell the same story as me: That they went to Capri and fell in love with the lemons and decided to grow them back home.  Love their story and love the Lemon Veal they make with their Meyer Lemons.  Totally going to try that one soon.

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons