I have to admit it. Last week’s forecast of a hard freeze for our area had me worried. We covered our Hong Kong Orchid which had grown to a small tree along with our passion flower vine and brought in the papaya and pepper plant seedlings. The herbs, I knew, could fend for themselves and everything else was just way too big to attempt to protect. But wait, I forgot the lemons. Since this was our “best year ever” for our homegrown lemon tree, I couldn’t bear losing the fruit that had remained on the tree. I tugged on the remaining 7 lemons that I could reach. Only two were truly yellow and as nature would have it, they were the only ones that I could loosen from their stems’ grasp.
All that worry for nothing. Living under an oak hammock is to experience a unique micro-climate. It exhibits factors that don’t match its beach-side or city neighbors. Summers are a few degrees cooler and winters are a few degrees warmer. Palm Coast and Marineland registered 29 degrees on a couple of mornings last week, but our yard only got to 35 degrees, hooray!
Now, back to those rescued lemons. Or rather, their lemon zest. These Ponderosa lemons that I grew from seed provide not only a large quantity of zest due to their prodigious size but also a preponderance of flavor. Perfect for limoncello and lemon sugar cookies.
Both are simple to make and complement each other exceedingly well. I owe both ideas to my two sisters. When I was in college at the University of Colorado, one of my sisters was a recent graduate and working in Denver. Neither of us was flush with money so with her inspiration we decided to make homemade liqueurs and bread baskets made out of bread. Just so you don’t await a recipe that you will never see from me, the bread baskets were not exactly a success. The liqueurs for their era were not bad. Who remembers grasshopper pie? Yes, the Creme de Menthe was great. So was the homemade version of Kahlua and the Anise liqueur. I’m not sure that we tried anything else, but I kept the recipes.
Fast forward about 20 years and I had my first taste of limoncello in Italy. Upon return to the United States, I probably bought and tasted every brand available. I loved that stuff. I guess that I also liked Cointreau and Margaritas made with Cointreau. Did you know that Cointreau is really just the orange version of limoncello? Grand Marnier is a step up in alcohol and price categories but basically the same thing. It is now time to bring the Hammock into the discussion. You may recall that we like to make things we want for little or no money. The same friends and neighbors who first told us about the Artesian wells and who provided the mirror insert for our dancer’s mirror furnished us with the perfect ingredient for homemade orange liqueur from their two sour orange trees. Hey, they didn’t know what to do with sour oranges, but I did. The zest on those oranges was perfect for orange liqueur and what are sour oranges but the equivalent of Seville oranges, the rind of which is the predominant ingredient in marmalade. I was ready to go into business.
From orange liqueur to limoncello. It is basically the same recipe and I headed back to that photocopy of old–really old, I can no longer read in what magazine it was published. So here you have it, just substitute oranges for lemons or vice versa.
Lemons, vodka and sugar—that’s all it takes!
3 Cups Vodka
1 ½ Cups sugar
- Use a carrot peeler to remove the zest from 4 lemons. Pat the zest with paper towels.
- Place the zest into a large, wide-mouthed plastic or glass jar.
- Pour over 2 Cups of really inexpensive vodka. Seal and leave in a dark place for 3 to 4 days.
- Remove and dispose of the zest.
- Add 1 ½ Cups sugar to the vodka. Stir well to dissolve as much as possible. Stir in 1 more Cup of vodka.
- Leave in a dark place for 1 week, checking daily to dissolve any remaining sugar.
- Put in decorative bottles, label if desired and place in your liquor cabinet. Lasts until it is gone ? I like to keep a bottle in the freezer or you can pour it over ice cubes to enjoy.
My other sister’s involvement has to do with pride, mine. I have to say that because I always brag that I am never envious. She told me about some melt-in-your-mouth lemon cookies that her California realtor had dropped off to her one day. You may have figured out that this daughter of a Danish mother (me) loves to bake. I didn’t have a melt-in-your-mouth lemon cookie recipe. If I did, I could drop them off to my customers or at least know that I had such a recipe. After a little trial and error, I developed this one based on a recipe from the “food network kitchens cookbook” that I tweaked to give them that melt-in-your-mouth quality.
Melt-in-your-mouth Lemon Sugar Cookies
DO NOT DOUBLE
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg white
- Combine the granulated sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the lemon zest and reserve.
- Whisk the flour and the salt.
- Beat the confectioners’ sugar with the butter until fluffy. Beat in the yolks, vanilla and the remaining lemon zest.
- Slowly beat in the flour mixture.
- Roll out dough by hand into 4 one inch diameter rolls. Wrap in waxed paper and chill for at least 2 hours.
- Brush chilled rolls with the egg white. Roll them in the reserved lemon-sugar mixture.
- Slice one inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Put in freezer for 10 minutes.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees. Transfer to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container or freeze.