My limoncello tree

by Sarah on June 22, 2014

lemon tree

It took a decade to make my first limoncello.  I started from scratch. First we planted a lemon tree.  Then we waited.

After ten years I looked out the window at the fruit laden tree and thought to myself “I think I’ll make limoncello” I’d never really considered this before. Up until this year I bought my stock from the village of Ani-Am in the Golan Heights or sometimes from the Weizmann Institute of Science farmer’s market.

My lemons were used for lemonade, squeezed over tomato and cucumber salad or sliced finely for Moroccan olive and lemon tagine. The zest flavored cake and cookies, savory carrot salads or lively gremolata to sprinkle over stews. Often I’d call out to one of my boys in the middle of cooking “Can you pick a lemon for me?” and a few minutes later they’d place one on the counter and run off to fly paper airplanes or whatever else they were doing.

lemons in a bowl

Looking at the diminishing bottle in my freezer and a bowl overflowing with our harvest, I’d decided to try this ancient craft myself. I had no experience and not much time, so I searched for a recipe and started to quiz a few of my connoisseur friends. “Sure you can use vodka but I use 96% alcohol instead”, “Don’t bother buying expensive vodka, the cheapest is enough”, “Add a bit of lemon juice along with the zest or even a cinnamon stick or two”, “Steep the zest until the alcohol turns highlighter yellow” or less useful, “I stocked up on 96% alcohol before the country started taxing it. “ Indeed, spirits are an expensive enterprise here in Israel.

Making limoncello

At the end I decided to make two batches, one with vodka and the 2nd with 96% alcohol.  I opted for the the classic recipe, without embellishments. Flavorings could be added later if I pleased. However, I didn’t have the traditional Sorrento lemons used in Sicily, the birthplace of limoncello.  The hardy Eureka cultivars were the only kind I had and they worked fine.


Limoncello is typically served as a digestif.


1 750ml bottle of 40% alcohol vodka (80 proof)

Zest of ten lemons, preferably organic

Needed: A jar large enough to contain the lemon zest and alcohol.

Sugar syrup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

infusing lemon zest for limoncello


Zest the lemons. I used a potato grater with blades adjusted so that it removed only the yellow part of the peel and left the bitter pith behind. It is a faster, more efficient method than using a zester.

Place the zest and the alcohol in a clean jar.  Seal the lid and leave in a cool place until the liquid turns bright yellow and the zest is devoid of color. Some recommend stirring the contents of the jar every few days but I neglected this step with no ill effect to the finished product. Infuse for about 1 month. I’ve read a recipe that called for waiting only 4 days. It seems to me that this is not enough time to produce an optimally flavored limoncello.

Pour the alcohol through a sieve layered with a cheese cloth or coffee filter into a large bottle or jar. Leave enough space for the sugar syrup.

Make the sugar syrup.

In a small pot add the sugar and water. For each cup of sugar add one cup of water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Stir until the mixture is completely dissolved. Cool before using.

Add sugar syrup to the alcohol according to your preference. I added 1 ½ cups (375 ml) of sugar syrup to each 750ml of the alcohol (this gives a final alcohol content of 27%). Add more syrup for a more mellow and less alcoholic liqueur. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.

If using 96% alcohol, double the number of lemons. To produce limoncello that is 40% alcohol, add 1050ml of sugar syrup and/or water to the 750ml alcohol (for a total volume of 1800ml). I added more sugar syrup to balance the alcohol content.

Calculate the alcohol content of the final product using this equation:

(Total volume of alcohol X ABV / total volume of ingredients) X 100= Alcohol content of limoncello

ABV=alcohol by volume. % alcohol/100= ABV. For example, if the alcohol is 40% the ABV would be 0.4.

Remember this calculation is approximate since mixing ethanol and water is not additive. Read more here.

homemade limoncello



A stop at a Druze village

Thumbnail image for A stop at a Druze village June 8, 2014

Man plans and God laughs If there’s one thing I’ve learnt-you never know what will happen tomorrow. Last Passover we were supposed to have hiked the first six days of the Israel trail, the only part I didn’t do. Instead I became a full time caregiver. In fact, between my husband’s startup (there’s a depressingly […]

Read the full article →

Bauhinia and urban foraging in Israel

Thumbnail image for Bauhinia and urban foraging in Israel May 10, 2014

{Above: Bauhinia variegata} It’s a waste of money to go to the botanical gardens in Israel.  Indeed, most municipalities, including the one I live in, decorate their city with plants from around the world.  Israel’s strong research interest in agriculture combined with its mild climate has facilitated the adaptation and development of many exotic species. […]

Read the full article →

A tale of two markets

Thumbnail image for A tale of two markets April 5, 2014

A few weeks ago I went on a spontaneous mini holiday to Switzerland.  Like most leisure trips I go on- especially the last minute kind- I had almost nothing planned. I knew only two things- I would land in Zurich on Thursday night and on Friday morning at 9:00 sharp I’d meet Kerrin at the […]

Read the full article →

A Galilean feast

Thumbnail image for A Galilean feast March 21, 2014

There’s an exuberant potager’s garden surrounding Erez’s Komarovsky’s Galilean cooking school, the lush vegetation tumbling over the rocky borders. As I make my way down the stone path I recognize za’atar, rosemary, white savory, thyme, lavender….herbs used in folk medicine and to flavor regional cuisine. These are the same plants Erez uses in the food […]

Read the full article →