Making limoncello: a golden potion to welcome the return of the sun.
The winter solstice is coming. As we approach the longest night of the year, we lean into this most potent portal of winter, knowing we are safe and protected under the black shawl of grandmother crone. As we hibernate by candlelight, we trust that this long night actually unlocks the temple of the sun, who's rays will once again warm our waters and activate the seeds below the soil. We curl up onto a warm bed of dark, nourishing soil, as we release dreams and prayers that haven't even been named yet. Solstices are liminal spaces that invite us to straddle different times and realms. As we bow to the wisdom and ancient power of the dark, we simultaneously beckon the life giving sun. It is my Solstice/Christmas tradition to make limoncello by candlelight as a way to be, both, in the darkness and coming light. Below, I offer a limoncello making ritual for the Solstice, or the magic days between Solstice and Christmas. Enjoy!
[Winter 1898 by Alphonse Mucha]
The story behind Limoncello
The origin story of limoncello is mysterious and varied. There are different tales woven together that bring us to the present day Italian ritual of imbibing limoncello. Some say that friar monks sipped limoncello in between their daily prayers . Others believe that sailors drank limoncello to avoid the common cold and scurvy. My favorite myth says that sirens used limoncello to lure sailors into their grasp. There are many mysterious tales that have been passed down for generations via oral tradition, although nothing concrete was documented until the late 20th century. Despite conflicting stories, it is commonly believed that limoncello originated on the Amalfi coast. Many folks that live in the Amalfi region claim that limoncello is as old as lemon cultivation in Italy.
Digesifs and apertifs have been wildly popular in Italy since the Middle Ages or longer, so it is no surprise that folks began to mix one of the most integral fruits of Southern Italy, with alcohol and sugar. Although the mythos of limoncello, via oral tradition, dates very far back in time, there is a technical story surrounding the popularity of limoncello, which starts with a woman named Maria Antonia Farace. In the early 1900s, Maria served limoncello to her hotel guests in Capri, made from the lemons of her orchards. After this conception, local folks continued to enjoy their beloved drink of Capri, and it wasn't until 1988 that Maria's grandson trademarked her recipe and mass produced limoncello for the first time. Lemons that grow in the Sorrento area, are traditionally used for limoncello, but you can use meyer lemons (for their sweetness) or any other organic lemon you have.
- Clean quart mason jar
- 9-12 organic lemons (scrubbed clean)
- sharp knife and cutting board
- 750 ml bottle of 100 Proof Vodka**
- Candle (for altar space)
- Clean bottle and funnel for bottling (used later in bottling process)
- white sugar (used later in bottling process)
** Recipe traditionally calls for grain alcohol, rather than vodka. I like to use vodka as it is more generally available and can generally be bought local and/or organic. Feel free to use grain alcohol, but if using, look up specific ratios.
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Prep a clean space in your kitchen to perform this simple limoncello ritual. Set out a small altar cloth with a candle or many candles, if you are making by candlelight. Before you begin making the limoncello, light your main prayer candle. Hold the prayer of honoring the the darkness of winter, where dreams and prayers incubate in the depths of the longest night, yet welcoming and beckoning the return of the sun, where life will grow once again.
Begin by peeling the skin from your lemons with a sharp knife. As you remove the yellow skin, try not to remove the white pith with it. If you notice you remove too much pith, carefully remove it from the peels afterword with your knife. Put the skins in a clean mason jar, and place citrus into a separate bowl to keep for later. As you continue to peel each of the lemons, get into the rhythm of working with the lemons with your hands and heart. As you feel, see, and smell the lemons, connect with the spirit of them. Thank them for the brightness, light, and the awakening they bring.
Once you've filled your mason jar with the skins of the 9-12 lemons, infuse the jar with your prayers, intentions, and desires. Know that throughout the remainder of winter, those prayers will swirl in the potion, awaiting to birth with the returning sun.
Pour the vodka over the peels, knowing that it is alchemizing the lemons and your wishes, into a golden potion that will fill you and all who drink it with warmth and awakening.
Place the lid on your jar and shake it all up. As you shake, you are casting a spell of divine light into the world, a prayer of hope, and a trust in what is coming.
Leave the jar on an altar space for the night or put away right away. It will live in a dark place, being shaken every few days, for at least 21 nights. Every time you shake it, remember why you made your limoncello. What is it an offering to?
Allow your candle to burn (if attended) and energize your process or snuff out.
BOTTLING YOUR LIMONCELLO (After at least 21 moons)
Strain lemon/alcohol mixture into another clean mason jar.
Put 2 cups of white sugar in a small sauce pan with about 2 cups of water. Stir a bit and allow it to simmer until sugar dissolves.
Allow sugar mixture to cool, and then pour into lemon/alcohol mixture.
Make sure your lid is on tight and return mixture to a cool, dark place for another couple of weeks.
After 2 weeks, bottle your limoncello. I like to bottle around a new or full moon. Chill in freezer before serving.
Pour a glass for yourself, your kin, or the ancestors. Drink up and feel the love and warmth of the returning sun.
*Lemon fruit remaining from peels can be squeezed into lemon juice and stored in refrigerator or freezer.