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When Life Gives you Lemons

by Jane Worthington-Roth

When life gives you lemons, the heck with the lemonade - make Limoncello! This famous southern Italian liquor looks and tastes like liquid sunshine in a bottle and is remarkably simple to make.

In the United States, winter is when most citrus fruits are sweetest and juiciest. You’ll find a great selection of citrus fruits at the markets, including lemons, limes, oranges, blood oranges, grapefruits, kumquats and boxes of clementines.

Any of these citrus fruits can be made into “cellos,” and since you only use the skin for making the liquor, you can still enjoy the fruit as a delicious snack with its boost of Vitamin C. You generally find limoncello (made from lemons) in liquor stores, but it’s rare to find a bottle of “lime-cello,” “grapefruit-cello,” or “clementine-cello” and each of these has a distinctive flavor. Our own homemade favorites are grapefruit-cello (which we call Pampelmocello) and clementine-cello (which we refer to as Clemencello).

Homemade “cellos” are perfect hostess gifts. There are many types of decorative bottles you can buy at specialty food stores such as Sur la Table, or you can order bottles with bale-tops online. These bale-top bottles work best for freezing the limoncello on its side and opening it often, as corks are not as secure.

My secret to making a full-flavored cello with a beautiful rich color is to use a microplane for zesting the fruit. Because you use the skin of the fruit, it’s best to buy organic fruit if possible, and to wash and dry the fruit carefully before zesting. Be sure to only zest the skin, leaving the bitter white pith on the fruit. By zesting with a microplane, the oils seep into the vodka very quickly, allowing you to make a batch of cello in only a couple days!


3½ cups water
2½ cups sugar
4 cups (32 oz.) vodka (use an inexpensive neutral-flavored vodka such as Popov or grain alcohol)
12 clementines
Special equipment: microplane zester and chinois (or fine strainer)

  1. Zest the clementines with a microplane, add the vodka and stir well. You will begin to immediately see the vodka start turning light orange as the oils seep out of the peel.

  2. Place into glass container and let it sit on its side in a cool place for a couple of days. Shake the bottle vigorously a few times a day.

  3. While the alcohol sits, make simple syrup by combining 3½ cups water with 2½ cups sugar in a saucepan and heating until the sugar all dissolves into the water. Refrigerate the simple syrup.

  4. Strain all of the zest out of the vodka using a chinois or very fine strainer. You’ll see that the zest has now turned very pale, as the orange oil has seeped into the liquor.

  5. Combine the simple syrup with the clementine-flavored vodka. Keep the clemencello in the freezer and serve ice-cold. Delizioso!

Because citrus fruits are in season and this recipe is so simple – you might want to make a batch of various flavors, such as lime, grapefruit and clementine and host your own cello-tasting! To alter the recipe, substitute 4 grapefruits, or a dozen limes, in the recipe above.