Published August 15, 2019. Last updated August 26, 2021.
If there’s one drink that perfectly embodies summertime in America, it’s good old fashioned, homemade lemonade! The simple, timeless combination of lemon juice, sugar, and water creates the ultimate refreshing beverage during these dog days of summer.
Pretty much every recipe out there will tell you to juice some lemons, add sugar and water, stir well – and voila! Lemonade.
The really smart recipes will instruct you to first make a quick simple syrup, which is a big improvement. But I have an upgrade that will make for the absolute best lemonade you’ve ever tasted – and you still only need those three simple ingredients: lemons, sugar, and water!
Citrus oils > citrus juice
It all starts with our lemons. Specifically, their peels. We’re going to put those bad boys to good use, and using our cocktail-loving knowledge of the power of citrus oils, we’ll create an incredibly easy (though intimidating-sounding) syrup called oleo saccharum.
Oleo saccharum is just a fancy way of saying ‘citrus oil sugar syrup’. To make it, all you have to do is round up some washed, organic lemon peels, toss them with regular white sugar, and let the mix sit for a while.
The sugar magically draws out the oils from the peels, leaving you with a pool of ultra-citrusy syrup in the bottom of your bowl. You can then choose to combine that liquid gold with some water for an easy-to-use, phenomenally delicious syrup that will make your lemonade far more enticing than lemon juice alone.
This concept is nothing new, and it’s actually a cornerstone of many classic punch recipes. But for some reason, the beauty of intense, lemony oleo saccharum isn’t often used for modern day lemonades.
A little patience and a great reward
Granted, it does take a while longer to make, but the cost and effort are virtually the same as traditional recipes, and you’ll be amazed with the end result. Seriously, you could charge at least double for this stuff at a lemonade stand.
The instructions below outline the ratio I’ve used for making oleo saccharum, which I’ve then turned into a version of simple syrup – 1:1:1.
When making oleo saccharum for cocktails, you wouldn’t add water to it. It’s just citrus peel and sugar. We’re using an equal measure of water here to make sure that all of our sugar dissolves and makes its way into our lemonade.
Exact measurements helpful, but not required
As long as you mix equal parts lemon peels and sugar with an equal measure of water, this recipe will work (exact measurements aren’t required). This is why I’ve written “approximately” a couple of times.
It’s ok if you have more than 5 oz of lemon peels. That part of the recipe is just a starting point. And you can always store any leftover oleo saccharum syrup in a jar in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.
Once you’ve made the oleo syrup, things get very easy. The actual lemonade recipe is just:
- 1 cup of lemon juice
- 1 cup of oleo saccharum syrup
- 6 cups of water (more or less, to taste)
Feel free to add more water if you like a more watered-down drink, or a little less if you like it more intense.
Remember that when you serve it over ice, it will continue to dilute. Lemonade is fun to make because you can easily adjust it to your own taste, so feel free to do the same with this one.
Use organic lemons if possible
Some folks like it sweet, some like it sour, and that’s ok! What matters here is the quality and intensity of lemon flavor you’ll achieve by using citrus oil syrup instead of just sugar or simple syrup. I recommend using organic lemons since you’ll be using the peels. No one wants pesticides in their lemonade.
Now that you’ve got some superior lemonade, you should probably think about what spirit you’re going to mix with it. It doesn’t get any easier than a couple of ounces of gin, vodka, whiskey, or rum (or cognac, or cachaca, or aquavit!) + ice + freshly made lemonade.
But the best part is that everyone can love this recipe – the kids or that pregnant friend who’s reallllly tired of drinking sparkling water all day.
Vintage Style Lemonade Recipe
- 11 lemons (organic preferred)
- 5 oz sugar (about 3/4 cup)
- 5 oz + 6 cups cold water
For the oleo saccharum syrup:
- Create the oleo saccharum simple syrup by peeling the lemons with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife and tossing them with the sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl.
- Cover and let sit for a couple of hours (at least one hour, ideally two or three).
- Once nearly all of the sugar has dissolved into a liquid in the bottom of the bowl, you’ve created oleo saccharum. To ease this concentrated syrup into our lemonade recipe, add 5 oz of water to the mixing bowl and stir to remove any undissolved sugar from the peels.
- Strain out the peels, reserving the syrup.
For the lemonade:
- Juice the peeled lemons until you have 1 cup of juice (how many lemons this takes will vary).
- Add the lemon juice, 1 cup of the oleo saccharum syrup, and 6 cups of cold water to a large pitcher and stir well. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.
- Serve over ice for a traditional take, or over ice with 1.5 – 2 oz of your spirit of choice for a boozy lemonade. Lemonade is wonderful with clear spirits, but I highly recommend trying it with cognac, rum, or whiskey! Garnish with lemon wheels, mint, and edible flowers, if desired.