Okay, foodies and mixology mavens. I need your help. I made my first ever batch of limoncello and it looks like this:
In case it isn’t obvious from the photograph above, my limoncello is not yellow. A sip sometimes yields hints of Pledge cleaner underscored by notes of blecchh. Although I did try it again today and it was, if I closed my eyes, drinkable. Of course, anything, can be swallowed if one is determined enough. I speak as someone who remembers the days of Boone’s Farm apple wine (99 cents!) enjoyed (although rarely sipped) in the fresh mountain air near the Vermont state line.
Back to the limoncello.
A failed batch would be just fine if I were whipping up a batch of cookies that went wrong, or dropped an omelet on the floor. This, however, was so much more.
This was supposed to be a love offering, a celebration of families across two continents and one ocean. I had BIG plans for this limoncello.
Let me explain.
The idea was born during our visit to Italy last fall to see my husband’s family in Pontecorvo, just south of Rome. The centerpiece of our day with them was a meal that started around noon or one and unfolded with love and laughter for the next three hours. At the end, Roberto asked if anyone wanted some limoncello?
Of course. Out came a bottle made by the father of his wife, Maria-Vittoria. Each sip was as perfect as the sunlight that filtered through the windows and blessed the faces of those around the dining table.
I knew I couldn’t recreate the food, or the laughter, or the sweetness of connections regained after many years, but I could, I thought, try to make the limoncello once I got home. I had all the ingredients: my stepdaughter’s lemon tree would provide the lemons. My son would provide the vodka. Maria Vittoria gave me her father’s recipe. This limoncello would be infused with love and family from the West Coast to Pontecorvo.
I waited for the lemons on my stepdaughter’s lemon tree to ripen.
I put aside a bottle of vodka made by my son’s distillery.
I peeled each lemon trying very hard (but maybe not hard enough) to get pure lemon strips, no white zest.
I found an old jar that was big enough and poured the vodka in over the peels.
Then I waited. Waited some more. I waited two months before opening the jar and draining out the vodka which, alarmingly, was not as yellow as the peels had once been.
I made the simple syrup and added it.
I let it steep. I chilled it. And … well, you saw. instead of this:
I got this:
I know that at least one mistake was using organic sugar, rather then the usual white refined stuff. That could add a caramel tint. But what about the vodka? Some argue only for 100-proof vodka or grain alcohol. Goat vodka is 80 proof. I filtered everything through coffee filters inside strainers but nothing got any clearer. One thing I can say is this: these lemons were untreated. They are so light and fresh, I can eat the peels (before they’ve been soaked in vodka). They are beautiful, always.
I try to tell myself there are lessons in this limoncello, tart reminders:
Nothing is easy as it looks or sounds.
Patience is the essential ingredient (Maybe I should have waited until we had some white sugar in the house).
Failure is part of everything, even labors of love. The only thing we can do is to understand where we went wrong. And begin again.
The lemons should be ripe again in a few more months. In the meantime, I am open to any and all suggestions.