Secrets in Translation

Oct 12, 2018

Secrets Final Cover October 2018

Secrets of Limoncello
A guest post by Margo Sorenson

For my newest young adult/crossover adult novel, SECRETS IN TRANSLATION, set in la bella Italia, I had to do a lot of research, even though I spent my early childhood there and have visited often.

"Well!" you may be thinking, "Italy! Why not?  Of course, you'd want to research that!"

But besides researching the beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous location of the town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, I had to find out a lot more about limoncello, the lemony liqueur with the piquant tang and a powerful punch. In Secrets, seventeen-year-old Alessandra's new boyfriend, Carlo, is the son of a renowned limoncello-producing family.  Carlo and Alessandra drink it (there is no legal drinking age in Italy, and a chapter takes place in the factory (fabbrica).

Ah, what a great research project! You're probably  imagining my downing multiple glasses of limoncello. Well, if I'd done that, the book would never have been finished! But I was surprised to find there are many unusual aspects about limoncello.

Limoncello is an inextricable part of life on the Amalfi Coast (Costiera amalfitana). Complimentary chilled glasses of the golden liqueur, "con i nostri complimenti," are served in many restaurants after your delicious meal. Often it is the restaurant's own recipe, made in the kitchen. The perfect answer to such an offer: Why not? (Perché no?)

Commercial limoncello production is carefully controlled by the Italian government. Its quality is based on the very specific lemon varieties known as IGP (similar to DOCG in wine) that are licensed to produce it, such as Sfusato Amalfitano and Massa Lubrense lemons. Limoncello producers closely guard their secret recipes, but if you have Italian friends, they may be willing to share their family recipe with you, often passed down from a grandmother (una nonna). The forty days of steeping are worth the wait!

“In this area we used to make limoncello at home,” my friend Carmela tells me, “so it is natural and savory, prepared with natural ingredients.” Here is her old family recipe:

*Marinate lemon peels (you need about 13 lemons) in about 4 ¼ cups of alcohol (95% alcohol, 190 proof) for 48 hours in a tightly closed jar. In the meantime, prepare a syrup by boiling about 3 ¾ cups of sugar in a quart of water. Let the peels sit for 48 hours.

*Let the syrup cool before adding it to the lemon peel mixture after its 48-hour rest.

*Strain and bottle, discarding the lemon zest.

*Let it steep in the well-closed bottle for 40 days—yes, 40!

Commercial limoncello factories have to respect specific rules about the ingredients, which must be local “IGP" (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) lemons, as naturally grown as possible, to meet strict hygiene regulations during production. There are also rules regarding shipping outside the country.

The only danger from drinking limoncello? Getting drunk. My advice: Sip slowly.

Cin-cin, everyone!

Words and Expressions

Limoni – lemons

Un ottimo digestivo – an excellent digestive


Limoncello è il popolarissimo liquore — Limoncello is the most popular liqueur.

Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy, devouring books and Italian food. A former middle and high school teacher, Margo has won national recognition and awards for her writing. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and her publisher.

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. \ LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and  LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World (coming in April). 

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