Just in Time

We first encountered mandarinello in the spring of 2002, when we were staying a week in Vernazza, one of the five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre.

We had rented a grape harvester's cottage high above the village for our own version of Enchanted April. That film was set in Portofino, a few miles west along the Tyrrhenian Coast.  In the garden of our cottage, the spring vegetables were just coming in. The precipitous terraces enabled us to reach to the tops of the mandarin trees growing below to pluck fresh fruits nearing the end of their season.

Each day, we hiked from at least one of the five villages to another, and sometimes back. On occasion, sated by a tremendous noon dinner, we would return by the milk train. If you haven't been there, this is the quickest way to get from village to village.

When in Corniglia, the middle village of the five, perched high atop a bluff overlooking the sea, we had just finished a wonderful midday meal at Osteria A Cantina de Mananan, when we came across a little shop that sold limoncello and mandarinello.

We were well acquainted with limoncello, but had never tried mandarinello. So we bought a bottle, and the bottle itself was spherical and embossed with the continents to make it look like the globe.

The truth is, we bought the mandarinello for us, and the bottle for our friend Mikey who collects maps and globes. Mikey doesn't drink, so we simply had to empty that bottle before giving it to him.

Now that is true friendship, right?

Flash-forward to this year when we had a lovely crop of mandarin oranges on our very own little potted tree. It was our first year with this particular variety and we admit to being a little disappointed. The fruit was much more tart than we anticipated.

If, when life gives you lemons, you make Lavender Lemonade, it only follows that, when life gives you sour mandarin oranges, you make mandarinello.

You can make this liqueur with any kind of mandarin orange or clementine. It takes only 10 days to steep so, in December, when the fruits are prolific in the stores, you are just in time to make it and have it ready for the holidays.

~ David


16-20 mandarins or clementines, organic (untreated)
3 1/2 cups Everclear® pure alcohol, or vodka
2 cups sugar
3 cups water

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the mandarin oranges and place it in a large glass jar that has a lid. • Pour the alcohol over the zest and seal the jar. Set the jar aside in a cool, dark place for 10 days, shaking it from time to time while the zest macerates.

After the 10 days, make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature.

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the alcohol into a large bowl. Discard the mandarin zest. Pour the simple syrup into the strained alcohol and stir. If you use pure alcohol, it will turn cloudy. Decant into bottles and store in a dark, cool place. I keep mine in the freezer. ••

• If you desire, juice the fruit and either drink it or use it for a marinade.

•• If you decide to use vodka instead of pure alcohol, you cannot keep the mandarinello in the freezer.

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