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When we moved back from Italy in the 1970s, we settled into what was then the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. We bought a brand new house and had spent nearly all of the family savings moving to Italy and then migrating back to Australia. So papa’  built some of the furniture we used in those first years. Back then the lounge room was his temporary work shed for a few years until he built the garage. Every night after work and on weekends, he would make tables and cabinets, or paint second-hand items we got through the Trading Post. One of the things he was very proud of was the bar that he built in one corner of the L-shaped lounge room. Having a bar in your house was the height of fashion in the 1970s. The bar had (well it still has) a high bench and three heavy dark wooden black-vinyl topped barstools. It is covered in wood-panelled laminex and has hidden shelves where the barman could discretely place glasses. The back wall of the bar had cut-out arches filled with bottles of liqueur and spirits (as well as the odd bottle of home made grappa). Back then it was also covered with wallpaper which had a red brick pattern, a bit like the red brick cantina (cellar) he built under the houseThere was nothing more exciting than showing my school friends that we had a “bar” and sitting at it, pretending to have a drink just like an adult.

I don’t think papà ever restocked the bottles from the original ones he bought in the 1970s either. My parents drank wine with their meals and enjoyed grappa in coffee (and in various northern Italian sweets and cakes) but the rest was left to evaporate over time (or at least until I went to university then there were frequent parties at my parents place and the contents of the bottles seemed to {ahem} evaporate at an even faster rate). 

Back in the day, my father also used to make wine and grappa at home. The wine was cloudy and strong but the grappa was perfect for coffee and in cooking. He even tried making limoncello once – difficult task as the best recipe calls for 95 proof alcohol. This can be bought in a supermarket in Italy but is impossible to buy in Australia. And using vodka doesn’t get quite the same result. Back in January, thinking about that limoncello, as I flicked through a 1993 book by Lorenza de Medici, I found a recipe that sounded delightful –  liquore di fragole, a strawberry liqueur which has a base of vodka. 


In addition to strawberries, the recipe used lemon peel, sugar and various spices and it takes 6 months for the liqueur to infuse. So now it is July, precisely 6 months after I made the liqueur, and it is time to test the result. The strawberries looked quite pale and had floated to the top of the jar. I loosened the seal and removed the lid – a lovely albeit alcoholic fragrance emerged with tones of sweet spicy strawberry.

Once I had removed the fruit and placed it in a separate jar, I strained the lemon rind and spices off through a filter. The most beautiful clear ruby red liquid remained. I tasted a bit (divine!) and sent an SMS to Mark – warning him most of it might be gone by the time he got home from work…..



A bonus is the strawberries that are left over. You add extra sugar and pop them in a clean jar. I can’t wait to eat them over some good quality vanilla bean icecream. The only problem with making liquore di fragole is that you have to wait 6 months for it to be ready. It is less than 6 months to Christmas so I had better get started on a new batch. Mark suggested making one batch each month – a bit expensive, but what a wonderful idea! 

Liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur)

360g (12oz) ripe strawberries
1cm (1/2 inch) piece cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
90g (3oz) plus 60g (2oz) sugar
zest of 2 lemons, pared
2 bay leaves
750ml (1 1/4 pints) vodka or grappa

In a large screw top jar, combine the strawberries, spices, 90g (3oz) of the sugar, lemon zest and bay leaves. Cover with grappa or vodka and seal. Allow to infuse for 6 months.

After 6 months, put the remaining 60g (2oz) of sugar in a small clean jar, remove the strawberries from the large jar using a slotted spoon and add them to the small jar with the sugar. Seal the jar well.

Strain the liqueur through a paper filter and pour into a clean bottle. Seal hermetically and chill.



  • pblevitt says:

    Mia Zia e Mia Nonna had similar bars built in there homes during this period of time, and they like your parents we not drinkers. The recipe sounds wonderful and as strawberries are in season, we will need to try it.

    • those home bars were so popular! I bought more strawberries yesterday to make another batch (grown in a hot house) – I am sure that as you live in the northern hemisphere they will be sweet and lovely – it will make the best liqueur!

  • Jo O'Mara says:

    That bar was so sophisticated! What a feature! that and the brown shagpile carpet were the essence of chic.
    I bet the strawberries will be the strongest part!

  • Barbara says:

    The bar was also much used in the late 80s as Claire and Alex would set up their pretend drinking locale ‘Sandy Blues Bar’ there with hand-written and illustrated drinks menu, cool music playing and invitations to their nonni and parents by the miniature barmen to come and have a drink. Mamma would sometimes even sacrifice half a lemon cut into thin slices as garnishes for the game They would pretend pour (or pour from a carafe of water or cordial), we would drink and make conversation with the barmen and pay with Monopoly money. It was a highlight of the Sunday lunches we always had there! Do you remember this Paola?

    • I do remember “Sandy Blues Bar” and the hand-written menu and the Monopoly money – huge source of enjoyment even for Tamara & Olivia later on – Poppy in particular loved putting on a show for the family. I would have loved some of the pics of those days to include in the post (maybe you can find a couple and send them to me?). Pxx

  • ambradambra says:

    When I experimented making Mandarinetto last year with my home-grown mandarins (see my post I was shocked to not find alcohol readily available, so I substituted vodka. When my mother made her liqueurs in the 1960s it was a simple matter of going to the chemist and helping yourself. Lucky her! Life is so restrictive these days. Don’t know if all the effort was worth it, but my 10 dinner guests threw down the whole bottle in one sitting.

    • anything with mandarins in it will win me over – I know what you mean about the guests polishing off the lot and whether it is worth the effort. the solution is maybe to make a bottle a month? Thinking of your blog post and alchermes, I found some at the local italian supermarket last week – I was pretty tempted to buy it as I cannot recall seeing it in Australia before

  • themoralhighground says:

    Hi paola,
    you’re taking me right back to templestowe with that bar!

    I made damson gin this year & only have a finger left – just wonderful. I suspect those hothouse strawbs might disappoint a little so can’t wait for your comparison. I’m about to do kumquat gin & kumquats in brandy as they are at peak of season & I don’t like marmalade. Also very good on ice cream. Yum!

  • David says:

    Paola – your liquore sounds wonderful and I am going to get mine started this weekend! I love the story about the bar – beautifully written!

  • Diana says:

    Looks delicious! AND PRETTY!

  • My parents house has a 1970’s bar too-made of brick by my Papà. It’s also still full of a lot of the original bottles! I have to make my amarena liqueur and limoncello with vodka too and it isn’t as strong as using the pure alcohol, but still very good. Your fragolino sounds delicious.

  • Great recipe! Never tried it. We’re making Nocino though…we tried last year and it was so good we’re making 100 litres this time! 😉

  • I just made a batch of limoncello but this sounds even more wonderful, if a bit more time consuming!

  • Maha says:

    I am off to the market to buy the supply sounds Devine. & pls tell Mark his idea is just genius: one every month, what a treasure

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