Lemon Balm Limoncello

Happy Independence Day! It’s been a rainy three day weekend for us here in St. Lou so we’ve been taking advantage of the long holiday weekend by processing some of the summer harvest.

Yesterday I shucked corn and bagged it for the freezer. If you read my Urban Gardener 2016 post from a few days ago, you know we lost our own small corn crop to rats this year so we went to the local farmers market on Saturday and bought some ears of corn. By the way, we’ve caught a rat every night this week in the live trap, but that’s a blog post for another day! We also bought green beans and added those to the freezer today.

We fried some zucchini last night for dinner. The rest also went into the freezer and will be quite yummy in soups this winter. I canned pickle relish last weekend and was tempted to do it again today to use up a small batch of some cucumbers we have left.  Instead, I thought I’d try some refrigerator pickles.

I found a recipe on Pinterest which will be ready to eat tomorrow so if we like it, we’ll probably make another jarful of pickles just to use up what’s left. Our homegrown garlic and dill were also put to good use with these pickles. We’ve canned pickles the last three or four years but we are never satisfied with the outcome though we do like the relish. So hopefully these fridge pickles will be better.

Today the house smells like sage, lemon balm, and vodka. I’m just joking about that last one. Vodka has no smell really. I mention sage because I filled up the food dehydrator with it.  We use it quite a bit in the kitchen and it’s time to start harvesting our herbs and drying them. But we don’t dry the lemon balm. This year we’ve been soaking it in vodka!

20160704_125303 (1)That’s right!  Vodka! We’ve lived here for ten years and our neighbors have had lemon balm growing right on the fence line all this time.  We’ve transplanted some into our yard, mostly around other plants to keep rabbits from eating them. They don’t like lemon balm. We’ve never really used lemon balm for anything though other than enjoying the smell of it in the yard and occasionally adding it to sun tea.

About a month ago I came across a limoncello recipe that uses lemon balm instead of actual lemons. Having made limoncello from real lemons many years ago, I enjoy drinking it but the task of making it is long and tedious. This one seemed much easier and worth a shot.

20160704_125327You start by cutting some lemon balm leaves and stems and washing it. The leaves tend to take on a rusty color the older they are. You don’t want to use those. Try to find the fresh, smaller leaves near the top of the plant.

After you wash them, stick a bunch of stems of leaves into a bottle or jar that has a lid. We have a lot of these jars with porcelain stoppers that we bought to make our own herbal vinegars years ago and they are perfect for the limoncello.

After you’ve put a bunch of lemon balm into your container, you fill it with vodka. Any plain, non-flavored vodka will do. No reason to spend a lot of money on it since you are flavoring it. We use 360 Vodka because it comes in a nice bottle that also has a porcelain cap so it can be reused to make and store limocello as well. One bottle of it filled two of our smaller bottles. Be sure all of the leaves are covered with the vodka.

20160704_131453After you’ve filled your bottles, let them sit in a nice cool dark spot for 30 days. I put mine in the back of the pantry. Be sure to mark your calendar so you don’t forget about it. The vodka will take on a dark rusty color as the lemon balm soaks and ages.

After soaking for 30 days, you are ready to add the next ingredient. Add one cup of water to a pan on the stove and turn your stove on low heat. To the water, add one cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. You do not have to let the water come to a boil. You’ll want one cup of this sugar mixture for about every four cups of vodka.

Next, pour the vodka that’s been soaking up the lemon balm into the water, minus any lemon balm leaves or stems. Stir well, making sure the sugar is dissolved and then rebottle it. You now have limoncello! It’s rusty color will be diluted a bit but it’s ready to drink!

And believe me, hot or cold it is yummy!  It tastes like lemon drop candy. We liked it so much we went out today and bought two more bottles of vodka and started three more batches!

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