When Life Hands You Lemons…Limoncello!

Hi, Everyone! I hope your week is going well thus far. It is only Tuesday…technically it’s my Sunday, which makes Wednesday my Monday…and it’s hump day. Meh. Well, at least the camels will be happy.

So a few days ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to make homemade limoncello. Limoncello is an Italian liquor made from lemon rinds, grain alcohol, and simple syrup. Because it’s challenging to find/buy high-proof grain alcohol in Virginia without a license to distribute, the next best alternative is vodka. I used Smirnoff, which is a decent, mid-grade vodka. I’m more of a wine and beer drinker, so I took the Smirnoff as a recommendation from a friend.

So you need:

6 Lemons (Meyer Lemons are slightly sweeter, but regular lemons are just fine)

750 mL Vodka or Grain Alcohol (98% proof if you can get it)

Simple Syrup

Container to store the mixture in

Peeler

You want to peel only the outside yellow part of the lemon. The white part will make the limoncello taste bitter, and you really don’t want that. Ick. Once all the lemons are peeled, place all the peels in the container, and pour in the liquor. Give it a stir, or close it up and give it a little shake. Leave it on your counter for about two weeks, or longer for stronger lemon flavor. Check on it once in a while and shake it up a little. Oh, the anticipation.

Once all the lemons are peeled, place all the peels in the container, and pour in the liquor. Give it a stir, or close it up and give it a little shake. Leave it on your counter for about two weeks, or longer for stronger lemon flavor. Check on it once in a while and shake it up a little. Oh, the anticipation.

After the two weeks or more are up, we add the simple syrup to the lemon rinds and vodka and then bottle it.

So because you only used the rinds of the lemons, you have six perfectly good lemons sitting on your counter that you need to use, or they’re going in the trash! What do you do? Make vodka lemonade! So you would need a little more vodka for this.

Cut the lemons in half and squeeze as much juice as you can out of them and into a bowl. Because I don’t like having sugar granules in my lemonade, I made a simple syrup with one cup of water and one cup of sugar. Cook the sugar and water mixture until just boiling, and then take it off the heat. Once it cools, add the simple syrup to your lemon juice. Some people prefer a more tart lemonade, and others prefer it sweeter so I will let you loose on this one, and decide how tart or sweet you want it.

Grab a pretty glass, and add a few ice cubes to it. Add a shot of vodka and if you choose, a few mint leaves. Pour the lemonade into the vodka and ice. Go sit on the deck and enjoy the beautiful sunshine while sipping on your refreshing vodka lemonade. 20170601_144502

Please forgive me for being all about the mint at the present time. It’s the only one of my plants that are big enough to harvest and use. 20170606_140707

Everybody else is too teeny weeny for any use yet…although I did grab a couple sprigs of parsley for my pasta the other day.

Sage may be big enough to use soon. The strawberry plant was a surprise. I hadn’t noticed that it had survived the winter; but lo and behold, I saw green! It hasn’t borne that any fruit yet, but I’m excited!

Anyway, back to the mint. The mint I am growing is actually spearmint, not peppermint. Spearmint has a more subtle minty flavor, versus peppermint that is very much in-your-face. Any mint variety is better planted in a pot for a couple reasons. The first is that it literally grows like a weed. If you do decide to plant it directly in the ground, here is a friendly warning: like daffodils, mint will spread to the furthest ends of your garden and beyond! It sprouts up everywhere, like bamboo! So if you want a more controlled growth, pots are the way to go.

The second reason is that mint grows very easily and very quickly. I started my mint indoors around March, and it graduated to being outside around mid-April. From there, it just kept going. All the other plants are taking their own sweet time.

Some plants need certain environments in order to grow well. I live in Virginia, which seems to be a sweet spot for most herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Many of these need ample sunlight, water/rainfall, and nutrient-dense soil. While red clay is what Virginia is known for as far as soil goes (the top soil got blown away years ago), it’s not very difficult to increase the nutrition of the soil in your backyard. It does take time and patience, as most gardening does, but the rewards are limitless.

Here are a few options:

  • Start a compost heap
    • There are so many options for this. I recommend using anything biodegradable, except for meat products and byproducts (no bones or leftover meats from dinner). These will attract unwanted pests like rodents, flies, sometimes coyotes and possibly bears, depending on where you live. They see your garbage as their treasure. Also, meat and their byproducts take longer to decompose. And they smell awful while they rot. Newspapers, coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit rinds and peels, vegetable matter–all great composting materials.
  • If composting is not for you, get some good quality top soil from your local garden store or nursery.
    • Always ask the experts for advice regarding your area: is the ground often wet, or dry? How much sun does the yard get, versus shade?
  • Get nutrients back into the soil.
    • If you want to get nutrients into the ground fast, planting peas and beans are perfect. These add nitrogen, which is a key ingredient for plant growth.
    • Clover is great for adding nitrogen as well, and acts as a cover crop–it keeps the soil from washing away when it rains.
    • Certain mulches are good for this, too. My mom used to get a mulch made of cacao shells. We all smelled like cocoa powder after we spread that over the garden! Be careful to let it dry between waterings, though, because it can get moldy (a harmless but unattractive mold), and it can attract unwanted bugs.
  • If you’re like me and rent, with little room for an in-ground garden, get some pots and potting soil.

Taking care of the soil is imperative to growing anything. If the soil starts out rough, crumbly, and veritably dead, don’t fret! The aforementioned options are great ways to bring health back to your plot. It does take time to regain soil health, just as it takes time to regain your personal health after an illness. But be patient and keep at it!

That is all that I have for you today! Until next time!

 

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