Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Greece ~ Where Life Gives You Lemons

In this part of the world, life does give you lemons ~ the good kind, of course! And when you think of  life in the Mediterranean doesn't images of olive and lemon groves come to mind?

Lemons growing at The Stone House on the Hill
Friends who know me well can attest to my daydreams of Mediterranean life and my love affair with olive and lemon trees. Over the years in our American Pacific Northwest life, I’ve purchased and managed to kill off more potted lemons and olives than I want to admit in my quest of having a taste – however small – of  Mediterranean life.

The Lemon Tree Patio - The Stone House on the Hill
Now here I am living in the Mediterranean surrounded by olive groves and have my own enormous lemon tree. It shades and shelters the patio named after it: the Lemon Tree (Wine)Patio. The scent of lemon blossoms are wafting in the garden and lemons are being grown at a pace with which we can’t keep up. . .roasted Greek lemon chicken and potatoes, lemon cake, lemon bread pudding, lemonade and lemon-water are all on the menu.

Lemon harvest - it is spring in Greece
We’ve stunned our local Greek and British friends when we tell them that a single – small – lemon back in the U.S. Northwest was selling for $1 at our local market when we left two weeks ago.  Here, where so many are grown, that we are having a tough time giving them away!

I’ve appreciated the suggestions from many of you on ways to use the lemons. I’ve got a growing file of lemon-flavored dishes and desserts to try. One friend suggested preserving them and taking them back to the States – nice thought but those agriculture-sniffing guard beagles at the airport would likely nail me even if they were in a jar - the smell is too aromatic to stay contained in a jar.

A friend told us the story of a Greek lady going to visit her son living in Florida who packed some fresh lemons in her suitcase for him. Not only was she ‘caught’ by the US authorities and her citrus gift confiscated but she was fined several hundred dollars.

We'll just have to 'preserve' them for use here and one of my favorite ways of doing that is to make Limoncello. . .


The Messinian Bay from The Stone House on the Hill
Limoncello is a luscious liquor that can be consumed alone as either an aperitif or digestivo, or can  be splashed into champagne or served in tonic water, think L and T vs. G and T. Or it appears in recipes for main dish flavoring or as a dessert; it is a great topping on vanilla ice cream!

I’d wanted to tell you about the origins of Limoncello but, as 'frequently happens in these circumstances, the truth is vague and the hypothesis are many and interesting,’ according to one Limoncello source. For example:

This year's crop - lemons anyone?
One story tells that Limoncello was created at the beginning of the 1900’s in a small boarding house on the island of Capri where Maria Antonia Forace cared for a garden of lemon and oranges.  Her nephew, post-war, opened a bar nearby and served old ‘nonna’s’ recipe. Another version says fishermen and farmers used the liquor to keep warm since the Saracen invasion (the first half of the 8th Century).  Others say it was invented by friars inside a monastery to ‘delight themselves between prayers’. Another credits an innkeeper in Capri.

We are probably safe in saying its roots are somewhere in the Sorrento, Amalfi, Capri area of Italy. We know that Massimo Canale registered the trademark “Limoncello” in 1988. And we know it is easy to make at home. . .if you have the patience. . .

Here's the recipe I use:

Making Limoncello
What you will need:
* 15 –20 lemons – clean, unwaxed with the thicker and more unblemished the skin the better. They should give off that ‘lemon’ scent.
* 2 (750-ml) bottles of 80-proof vodka.  Some say that cheaper is better and others say to buy higher quality so it doesn’t freeze when you chill the liquor in the freezer. If you can find Everclear, us it instead of vodka because it is pure liquor and doesn’t have any sugar in it.
* 2 – 3 cups water
*2 – 4 cups sugar (a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water makes a classic simple syrup, but use more sugar if you want yours a little thicker or sweeter.  Less if you want it a bit tart like we prefer it.)
* For this recipe you also need a larger 2 – 3 litre) glass jar with sealed lid. Wash, rinse and sterilize it.  (Old-fashioned sun tea jars work well or olive jars as in our case in Greece).
*  You’ll also need some nice glass bottles in which to put your brew once it it done.

Zesting the lemons - step one
Step 1: Lemon in Alcohol
1. Wash and dry the lemons. Cut off any skin blemishes, spots, stems, and ends.
2. Remove the peel from the lemons with a knife, peeler or fine grater/zester. Avoid the bitter white pith.  If any white pith remains on the back of a peel scrape it off as it will make the Limoncello bitter.
3. Put the peels in a glass jar and add the vodka and/or Everclear, leaving at least two inches at the top.
My lemon peels
4. Leave the lemons to steep in the jar in a cool, dark place until the peels lose their bright color, at least two weeks.  (I have left mine for 2 – 3 months before adding the simple syrup, some recipes say leave it at this stage for a month and add simple syrup then let the mixture set for another month.) Every couple of weeks swirl the peels around in the jar to mix up the oils in the alcohol.

Step 2: Make the simple syrup and add it
1. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir and slowly heat until it turns clear and all the sugar is dissolved completely. Let the syrup cool.
2. Put the cooled syrup in the jar with the lemons (if you used a small jar you may need to divide the batch into two at this step).
3. Put the jars back in the dark place for at least two weeks (here, is where some say to let it macerate longer).

Key ingredients of Limoncello
Step 3: Strain and bottle
1.  Strain out the lemon peels through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and pour the Limoncello into another contrainer. Squeeze to remove all the vodka and oils that you can from the peels before discarding.
2. Stir the liquid with a clean plastic or wooden spoon.
3. Put the liquor in the clean bottles, seal tightly and let it sit for at least a week before using. For the best flavor when drinking it straight, store it in your freezer. It shouldn’t freeze because of how much alcohol is in it. It is best served ice cold.
That’s it from The Stone House on the Hill this week.  I started my batch of Limoncello the same day that we set out on The Road to Residency here in Greece. We met with our attorney and turned over our document packets (that you read about a few weeks ago) to her on Sunday morning and I started the Limoncello later in the afternoon.  Tick, tock the clock has started officially running for both. . .

Until next week, thanks for being with us and safe travels to you all.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


  1. Hi Jackie,

    Well, now it's MY turn to 'ooh and aah' over YOUR gorgeous lemon tree patio at the Stone House on the Hill! How relaxing it must be, and with those spectacular views of the bay...sigh...

    We also have a lemon tree, and you can't imagine how I have been anticipating its blossoming! Oh, that sweet scent, similar to the orange blossoms, both top favourites of mine.

    Your limoncello recipe sounds divine and refreshing. Wherever it originated, we're thankful for its results!

    Hugs to you,

    1. Yes, whoever and wherever they were came up with the precursor for a very nice drink! Now if my 'brew' only measures up!

  2. I love lemons and olives too - so much. :-) My trees are only little at the moment, but I like to dream about five years down the road when they'll be big and productive. :-)

    1. Oh you are the one who gave me the idea for making a similar 'brew' using pomegranates. . .hope our little tree soon grows enough of them so I can try that as well!

  3. Oh Jackie it is so true, lemons are like gold in the US. I balk every time I have to pay all that money for something that is free here. But those are the twists and turns of life.

  4. Wow - powerful! We will give it a go!

  5. Replies
    1. We do when things are working as they should and at other times we ask ourselves 'why did we want to do this?' Thanks for the visit.

  6. You get a lot of mileage out those lemons. The lemoncello sounds delish. Plus you still have the lemons to make something else. Nice to know what time of year to visit you in Greece.

    1. And the best thing is that lemon season goes from December until late spring! A perfect time to visit!

  7. Hello, oh my! What I would give to have my own lemon tree. I love to make my own lemonade and the limoncello sounds delicious too. You have a lovely place there, I went back and read your DIY post. It is great to be able to do it yourself on some home projects. Sounds like you have had to do a lot to become residents of Greece. Love all the photos and post. Happy Monday, enjoy your day and the new week ahead!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Eileen and glad you enjoyed the glimpses into our Greek life. Enjoy your week as well!

  8. My friend and I had a glut of limes and tried substituting them in a Limoncello recipe. It wasn't a success! Love the photo of the lemons with the coast in the background!

    1. You know I found articles that said you can make Pistachiocello with pistachio nuts, Meloncello, with cantaloupe and Fragoncello with strawberries and I couldnt' quite imagine any of those, so will stick with lemons!

  9. I have killed my share of lemon trees too. They just don't like growing in our clay soil. As for limoncello, I had my first taste on a cruise ship and wasn't too keen but I seem to have acquired a taste for this liquid gold. I've also had a taste of a Spanish version of it in Segovia. I second the idea of making preserved lemon. It is a mainstay of some of my favorite Moroccan tagines. And don't try to post any lemons to me. New Zealand has some of the most restrictive biosecurity rules around. :)

    1. I've had bad and good lemoncello and I think the key is to making it as cold as possible. I had the worst ever in Rome when it was served in a warm glass, it was warm and no ice to chill it! Sounds like New Zealand could give the US a run for the money when it comes to biosecurity!

  10. Hi, Jackie. I love your recipe and would love to have a sip someday. Lemons here average a 1.50 each, so there is not limoncello in my future as long as I'm in Korea. Sorry I haven't been around much, but the semester has been extremely hectic and there is no end in sight. Good luck with the residency.

    1. I hear you on the blogosphere disappearing act. I am finally settling in and chores are getting fewer and I hope to make it back to the blogosphere with more regularity.

  11. Oooh! I can almost smell those lemons and I love their brilliant yellows contrasted against that bright blue sky! We have lots of trees here in Lagos loaded down with enormous lemons the size of oranges and have been enjoying lots of lemonade as well as fish cooked with lemon slices. Mmmm! And what a great tweak to the old saying, "When life gives you lemons ..." Here on this side of the Atlantic it's all good, right? 🙂

    1. You probably can smell those lemons from here. They are aromatherapy at its finest! And now in places we have orange trees in bloom - I can hardly stand it. I get dizzy with all the deep breathing I am doing of late. Life and lemons are all amazing on this said of the Atlantic!


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