Lemony Sip-it

dining lemonsIn the back yard of my grandparents’ Live Oak home was a lemon tree whose branches bent under the weight of a multitude of huge thick-skinned fruits. Gramma adored her morning glass of ice cold tomato juice with salt, pepper, and plenty of freshly squeezed lemon.

My tree is a young Meyer lemon, and once I discovered that it really did need weekly water, it is finally bearing a decent supply of thin-skinned golden orbs, as well as numerous flowers.

I’m thinking traditional Caesar salad dressing and marinated chicken breasts with fresh thyme. The juice can be frozen in small air-tight containers for later in the year, and will be a welcome addition to flu-season tea and honey.

But before you squeeze you might consider making a batch (or two) of limoncello, an Italian liqueur taken in small doses as a digestivo. It is made from the zest (yellow part only) of the peel, which is soaked in alcohol, aged, mixed with simple syrup, and aged some more.

Choose smooth-skinned organic (unwaxed) lemons, and wash thoroughly. To zest, you can use a sharp paring knife or microplane, but with the small fruits, I’m apt to lose knuckle meat. Instead I use a light hand with a very sharp potato peeler to carefully cut strips from a dozen lemons, and then combine with a 750 mL bottle of grain alcohol (Everclear) in an airtight, non-reactive (such as glass) container. Let rest in a dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. Strain the peels from the alcohol.

Heat 750 mL water with 3/4 pound sugar (1 2/3 cups) until sugar dissolves and the water becomes clear. Cool to room temperature and mix with the alcohol. Let rest for at least two weeks (yeah, right). It sets your palate on fire with sweet and bitter accents and clears your head, but will mellow as it ages. Refrigerate—and salute! | KP

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