When Life Gives you Lemons, Make Limoncello

During this global pandemic and shelter-in-place order, I am beginning to find extreme pleasure in simple things. Not to sound like a cheesy personal ad, but I’m digging late afternoon walks with my dog, fresh loaves of bread, hot cups of coffee, and long chats on the phone. 

Yesterday while taking a lovely walk (with my dog), I passed a huge lemon tree burgeoning with ripe fruit. It got me thinking about Limoncello, another simple pleasure. To make a bottle of limoncello, you need only 3 ingredients: lemon peels, vodka, and sugar. Actually, the most important ingredient in Limoncello is time, 4 weeks waiting is recommended, but let’s face it, these days, time seems to be a bit warped and odd anyway.

Interestingly, Limoncello is just one of several citrus-infusioned liqueurs. — there’s orangecello, Sicilian blood orange liqueur, and meloncello using cantaloupe. These fruit and citrus-infused spirits belong in the digestivo category to be consumed after a meal to help your body relax and digest. 

Scroll down for the recipe and video, or read about the special lemon from the Amalfi Coast. We may not be traveling to Italy anytime soon, but it sure is fun to reminisce. 

The Amalfi coast sits on twenty-five miles of coastline, carving a sharp line between the Gulf of Naples and the Sorrento Peninsula. The best way to view the stunning, sheer cliffs is by ferry. Boats run all day and into the evening going to Salerno, Sorento, Capri, and Positano. The relaxing ride on a ferry boat is far better than the harrowing drive along the cliff-hugging narrow road above. The principal land route, Strada Statale, is usually packed with cars and tour buses, easily turning a short trip into an epic and frustrating journey. Sitting on a ferry with the wind blowing in your hair is so much better.

Fun fact about Michelin Stars:

The Michelin Guide began as a handbook for travelers, sort of like Lonely Planet, Frommers’ or Zagat. At first, it was not centered on fine restaurants, but as a way to encourage more car travel. The first edition came out in France in 1889 by brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin, who made and sold tires. The brothers created the guide to help motorists find lodging, gas stations, and of course, a good meal after a long day of travel. The guide served as a way to inspire folks to drive more places (and use more tires!) Later, the brothers incorporated a supplemental guide with a star rating system, morphing into the Michelin Star guide.

Remember this guy? He is the Michelin logo!
Here is the link for the Michelin guide to Salerno.

Anyway, I digress…

Scott and I stayed in the town of Salerno, which is the southernmost point of the Amalfi coastline. This is a medieval city with many hidden treasures and delights. We took the ferry boat to the town of Amalfi and spent the day walking around the quaint little town, eating, drinking, and sightseeing, well, you know, the standard tourist activities.

Entering Amalfi
On the ferry ride home – back to Salerno

Almost by accident, we discovered a little shop tucked down a narrow street that seemed to be the happening place. Little groups of tourists came out with precious packages clutched lovingly to their chests. The sign outside said, Antichi Sapori d’Amalfi, which means ancient flavors of Amalfi. Thousands of colorful bottles of every shape and size lined dozens of shelves. The bottles were filled with limoncello.

Antichi sapori limoncello Salerno

In Amalfi, limoncello is made from the Lamo Amalfitano (sfusato amalfitano) lemon, supplied from local farmers.

lamo LAMO AMALFITANO lemon Amalfi  surroundings
See the big lemons on the left? Those are the Lamo Amalfitano.

Here in Northern California, our local favorite is the sweet, winter Meyer lemon. My neighbor was giving them away, so it was clearly time to learn to make a local version. The first step is to peel 10-12 lemons. I hate to waste anything, so here is a tip for making use of the lemons and their juice.


  • Difficulty: easy
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Made with sweet, winter Meyer lemons.

Essential supplies: A half-gallon glass container, preferably with a lid, in which to steep the lemon peels and vodka.
To sterilize the glass container and implements, place them in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the containers and place on a cooling rack until completely cool and dry.


– 10 – 12 medium-sized lemons
– 750 ml vodka  (100 proof is best)
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 cup water


Preparing the lemons and Infusing the vodka
1. Thoroughly wash and dry lemons. Using a vegetable peeler, peel each lemon, trying to leave the white pith behind.
2. In a sterilized, 1/2 gallon glass jar with a lid, add the lemon peels and the vodka, making sure the vodka covers all of the lemon peels. Cover and store in a dark cupboard for 3 – 4 weeks. The lemon oil from the peel will take 3 -4 weeks to infuse the vodka,  As the lemon oil is released into the vodka, you will see it turn a nice yellow color. 
Making the limoncello
3. After 3 – 4 weeks, it is time to strain the infused vodka. Place a coffee filter in a strainer over a glass bowl. Slowly pour the vodka through the strainer, leaving the lemon peels behind. Be patient. It takes some time for the infused vodka to pass through the coffee filter. You can change out the coffee filter halfway through if too many lemon particles are clogging the filter. Discard the peels or add them to a sauce or…
4. Make the sugar syrup. Add water and the sugar to a small saucepan and turn to medium heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Continue heating until the mixture just comes to a boil, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature. 
5. In this step, you will be adding the sugar syrup to the infused vodka. Add the sugar syrup about 1/4 cup at a time, stir and taste. Everyone’s taste buds are a bit different, and you might want it more or less sweet. I used about 3/4 cup of the sugar syrup to reach the right sweetness. 
Storing the limoncello
6. Using a funnel, pour the limoncello into clean glass bottles with secure lids. Leave at least three inches of air space at the top of the bottle. 
7. Age for 7 days in the refrigerator. Then you can store the bottles in the refrigerator for up to one month, or in the freezer for up to six months. 
The uses for this delicious beverage are really endless. Some ideas include: 

  • Affogato style; pour a few spoonfuls over ice cream.  (affogato means drowned in Italian)
  • sip after dinner 
  • use in other cocktails, such as Lemondrop Martini
  • flavor tiramisu, cakes, and drizzle over other desserts
  • It’s a floor wax! (JK)

California Meyer lemon

3 thoughts

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks for your comment! I love your blog and just read your piece about Alto Adige. I can’t wait until we can return to travel. In the meantime, we can do it virtually and with a glass of limoncello in hand!

Your comments are always welcome!