When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello

Going back about sixteen years I visited the Amalfi Coast in Italy with my family. Specifically, I visited a town named Ravello. Ravello, a resort town set 1200 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea by Italy’s Amalfi Coast, is home to iconic cliffside gardens, mozzarella shops, and Limoncello businesses. I was thirteen years old and remember every restaurant that I set foot in offered me a shot of Limoncello for dessert (especially if I was wearing my Del Piero jersey). And boy did I love it!

The lemons that grow in the Amalfi Coast are unbelievable – in taste and size! I remember seeing lemons the size of grapefruits! I thought…how was this possible? Was the land so rich in nutrients that monstrous fruit just sprang up from the soil? Everything just tasted better there.

Image by www.orderisda.org

Anyway, one day while I was in Ravello I had the pleasure of going to a Limoncello shop to see how it was made. Easy as pie! It just takes some patience. I ended up purchasing a couple bottles of it to bring home for my family, and also enjoyed some myself. Unfortunately in the states, I don’t think you can get top notch Limoncello like you can in Italy. So, the best way to enjoy Limoncello here is to make it yourself. As long as you have a jar, cheese cloth, sugar, and water, you can accomplish great things!

I found a Limoncello recipe using Everclear because I think it is preferred to use grain alcohol over vodka. Here it is, and I hope you enjoy.

*This recipe is from Katie Parla’s latest book, Food of the Italian South.

Homemade Limoncello

(This recipe makes enough for 8 cups and takes about five weeks to prepare.)


  • 4 cups (1 liter) Everclear (190 proof)
  • Zest of 5 untreated organic lemons, removed with a vegetable peeler
  • 5 untreated organic lemons
  • 4 cups water
  • 5 cups sugar

Place the alcohol and lemon zest in a large glass jar. Using cheesecloth, suspend the five whole lemons (not the zested ones) in the jar above the alcohol, taking care not to let them touch the liquid. Seal the jar and let rest in a cool, dark place for 30 days. Agitate the jar every few days.

On the last day, combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, strain the infused alcohol into a clean jar, discarding the zest and lemons. When the sugar has dissolved, 3 to 5 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool, about 20 minutes.

Add three-quarters of the syrup to the jar with the alcohol. Taste and adjust the sweetness, adding more syrup as needed. Seal the jar and allow the liquid to rest in a dark place at room temperature for 1 week.

Serve very cold or over ice. The limoncello will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for at least 6 months and in the freezer for well over a year. (Due to the high alcohol content, the liquid will not freeze.)

Note: Since the lemon zest is the main flavoring ingredient here, only use untreated organic lemons. You can substitute mandarins, bitter oranges, or any other citrus for the lemons—just be sure they’re organic and untreated, too.