November 30th, 2010
Christmas is coming, and with it, the seasonal urge to imbibe. In anticipation of the annual holiday party at the Museum where I work, we decided to try out a new punch receipt. Naturally it’s from Jerry Thomas’s 1862 masterpiece, How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion.
We cut everything by thirds this afternoon, as we were a smallish — though valiantly willing — tasting party (made up of staff, interns, and volunteers).
At 2 o’clock, I put some freshly sliced pineapple and two navel oranges, halved and sliced, to infuse in 8 ounces of Courvoisier VS. When we returned just before 5 o’clock, the entire caterer’s kitchen reeked of cognac and citrus. Delightful, but very pungent. We poured in a bottle of iced sparkling wine and stirred.
The verdict was so-so. It was palatable, but didn’t leap off the tongue and make you shout hooray. Consensus held that it would be better if it were sweeter. We wondered if the orange pith might have made it bitter (though citrus rind is valued in most punches for the oils that it releases), or if perhaps the brut wasn’t as sweet as real champagne. My personal opinion is that tastes were simply different in 1862; remember, these are the folks who barely sweetened their hot chocolate (sugar being far more valuable in the days before high fructose corn syrup).
Regardless, have no fear that the punch at the holiday party will be even the slightest bit lackluster. Our expert panel of tasters proceeded to tweak the receipt and we are now certain of a grand and delicious (and historically accurate) success when it is served.