How to Throw and Enjoy a Party, Holiday Edition

I told myself I was going to do this months ago, clearly. In an attempt to be proactive about being one of these blogguys, I am going to put this up here now and just promise myself I will be better.

The holiday season, to me, is about togetherness. Gathering with your out-of-town relatives, the in-laws, your drunken colleagues after hours at the office or at the neighborhood pub. I really enjoy having friends and family over during the colder months to look back on the year, and reminisce over finger snacks and belly-warming beverages. While I love hosting these parties and get-togethers, I also, myself, like to party very much. The idea to have everything prepped and ready to go when your guests arrive, and being able to just set all the items out (artfully, of course) replenishing as necessary is key to you and your guests’ mutual enjoyment.

The punch bowl used to be a much more elegant thing. Today a lot of us still remember a “party punch” as that fluorescent red liquid spiked with inexpensive vodka or gin and colored with canned and bottled juices. Perhaps adding a little effervescence with some lemon-lime soda or Welch’s sparkling apple juice– in my family, at least. But, alas, this was not the case in the days before the prohibition of alcohol or the second World War. Finer spirits were used- brown ones; with rich, full flavor. Fresh fruits and flowers were used to ornament the delicate glass bowls. They were lengthened with fine, but weakly brewed teas. Fresh citrus oils were used to brighten and give fullness to the batch using an oleo-saccharum, an ingredient created by macerating citrus peels with raw sugars. All of this plentiful and flowing bounty could be sipped and supped all day with causing only minor intoxication as the overall alcohol volume is low while the complex flavor and general tastiness were able to remain high.

Creating a delicious punch like these is indeed fairly simple as the ingredients tend to do all of the work, but can be timely, so you may want to start as much as a day ahead to prepare.

Ingredients:

4-6 lemons, depending on size
1 cup demerara, turbinado or any other raw sugar
1 750 ml bottle of Calvados (I like the Berneroy VSOP here)
1 cup Barbados rum (try the 5yr offering from Plantation)
1/2 cup rainwater madiera (the Broadbent offering works nicely)
2 oz cranberry syrup*
2 bags ginger tea
2 bags Earl Grey tea
Fresh nutmeg
Cinnamon stick
some cloves
you’re going to need water as well

How to do it:

1. Find your favorite shaped bowl, somewhere around 2 quarts in size. Fill it with water and put it into the freezer a day ahead of your festive soirée

2. Peel those lemons with your favorite vegetable peeler, and place them into a nice big bowl. Keep your peeled lemons, to juice later.

3. Cover the lemon peels with sugar. Muddle this mixture for a while, you’ll notice the sugar beginning to pull the oils from the lemon peels. This is the beginning of your oleo-saccharum. Let the mixture mingle for as long as you can. The sugars will begin to dissolve into the oils and will become harmonious and beautiful.

These next steps can be done day-of

4. Brew all tea bags in about a quart of boiling water. Steep for about 4 minutes.

5. Juice those lemons from earlier. Be sure to strain off the pulp and seeds.

6. Pour the lemon juice into your bowl of oleo-saccharum to dissolve all of the sugars. Stirring well.

7. Into a large sealable container, pour in your oleo-citrus mix, cranberry syrup*, and alcoholic ingredients.

8. Stir well to incorporate all ingredients and pour in the brewed tea.

9. This is where you start tasting your punch. Do you need more water (or tea) to dilute? More citrus? Adjust accordingly, just as if you were seasoning a dish.

10. Seal and refrigerate until party time.

When it’s time to party, take that bowl out of the freezer, turn it upside down and run some warm water over it to loosen the artful ‘cube’ from its mold. Place this in the center of your favorite punch bowl. Remove your punch patch from the refrigerator and gently pour or ladle into the seeing bowl. Grate the nutmeg over the top and decorate how you see fit. Float in some of those left over cranberries, maybe fashion some handsome clove-studded lemon wheels. Heck, anything you think is pretty and seasonal. When guests arrive ladle out the first few servings so no one gets nervous about disrupting your artful masterpiece, and assure them it’s perfectly safe by serving yourself, passing on the ladle and moving over to the snacks to essentially do the same demonstration. Float around, mingle, enjoy the party and keep the punch flowing as needed.

*Cranberry syrup
In a small sauce pan simmer 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, i cup fresh cranberries, and one cinnamon stick. Press the berries with the back of a spoon to help incorporate the tart goodness. At the hint of a boil, remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain of the solids, bottle and refrigerate.

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