Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Engagement Limoncello

Back in April my parents called to drop some less than subtle hints that my sister would be getting engaged before the weekend was over. Naturally, I was too excited for her to contain my craftiness and immediately started racking my brain for the perfect engagement gift for a couple who have no space left in their tiny city apartment. Food and booze are always safe bets, and a recent article in the Real Simple had me craving limoncello. I did a little research and found that lots of bloggers have tried their hand at homemade limoncello, the most impressive of which was Limoncello Quest written by someone who has turned making limoncello into a science. I quickly learned that it would take a while, so I developed a plan to start it the day my future brother-in-law popped the question and give it to the happy couple at the imminent engagement party.
Since a big bag of lemons will barely set you back a dollar where I live, and grain alcohol isn’t exactly known for its price tag I didn’t hesitate to run out, get my supplies, and start zesting lemons like a woman on a mission. One 750ml bottle of grain alcohol and a few hours later the kitchen smelled wonderful and I had two half filled fishbowl sized jars of lemon zest and cheap booze. I locked the limoncello to-be in my garage so I wouldn’t think about it and even loaded it into the back seat of my car when I moved to my new place.
My intent for this to be a surprise quickly fell apart when I, after one too many beers, excitedly told my sister about my adventures in limoncello, but the ball was already rolling, so I just decided to continue on with the plan. The engagement party was still in its planning infancy and no dates had been set, so I rushed my limoncello along to be sure it would be ready in time for the celebration. Just over a month after I started the zest soaking I mixed up my simple syrup (5 cups water and 4 cups white sugar) on the stove, let it cool, and added it to my great big glass jugs. With an impatient sigh I tucked the now full jugs back under the sink (their new home after the move).
When I got back from my road trip with my mom in late July I pulled the limoncello out again. Using a tiny strainer and funnel (I tried the coffee filter like most blogs suggest and I just ended up with a sticky counter) I strained the zest out of the mixture and poured it into some very cool sealing glass bottles I found at IKEA for a couple of bucks a piece. This, I have to say, was the most rewarding part of the process. Suddenly I went from having big jugs of pulpy everclear under my skin to having swanky bottles of Italian liqueur. Without even tasting it (this took serious willpower) I put the bottles away for it to mellow. About 2 weeks prior to the party my sister and her finance settled on a monogram for the wedding, and to add a finishing touch to the gift I etched it on the side of each bottle.

When they popped the first bottles at the engagement party I was surprised by how sweet it had turned out. My brother and his girlfriend who have just returned home from a month in Italy said the limoncello there tasted a lot more like booze. Mixed with club soda it was refreshing (and a nice change from the delicious hoppy beer we had been drinking all afternoon). Luckily there wasn't a bottle of vodka out on the table to mix it with or I probably wouldn't remember the evening, but next time I have a get together the extra bottle still sitting under my sink might just turn into a mixer. 

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