Karen Terhune Duncan
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello
The last week of my mother’s life she was not eating much of anything. Even her favorite treats held little interest. Then she whispered she had a craving. She wanted limoncello, over shaved ice. I ran to the liquor store and bought the best I could find. She savored each sip, gazing out at her stunning and full Meyer lemon tree that she and my father had planted 15 years earlier. Year after year that tree yielded bright, plump, juicy fruit. When I sold their home, in 2015, it was hard to say goodbye to that beautiful tree.
The glorious Meyer lemon tree in my parents Palm Desert, California yard. My father hilariously used to hawk bags of them out of his golf cart.
Limoncello is a sweet, sunshine-colored intensely lemon-flavored liqueur most famously associated with and produced in Italy’s Amalfi coast, and the island of Capri. Traditionally made with Amalfi lemons, Meyer lemons are an excellent substitute for making homemade limoncello. Over the years my mother experimented with various recipes and her limoncello was delicious.
Preparation is simple but meticulous: if executed with accuracy, in about a month, the traditional lemon liquor will be ready. Our friends Rick and Bill have been perfecting the art of making limoncello for years. Both are pure Italian and so it’s truly in their blood. The gifting (and consuming) of their prized limoncello is legendary. At least to us on Skidaway Island. We have the added bonus of being able to use fresh local Meyer lemons, which grow in abundance here, and come into full fruit in December. I wanted to try.
Meyer lemons are cross between regular lemons and a mandarin orange. This fruit has an darker skin, a heady floral aroma, and a slightly sweet taste. Three years ago, I bought a small Meyer lemon tree in Sarasota visiting my dear friend Linda. It was teeny tiny, and I planted it in a pot on our terrace. The first year I got 3 lemons. But the next year I got only one. Discouraging. I moved the pot, bought more appropriate fertilizer, and learned to pull back on the watering. Voila! This year I have 35!
I began my batch on December 27 and bottled it January 29. My tiny Meyer lemon tree is thriving and just may just grow into something as spectacular as my parents’ tree. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my first batch of limoncello, in my mother's glasses. Salute, mom!