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Friday, May 29, 2020
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Purim is unique in the canon of Jewish festivals, in that while wine is a critical component of most Jewish holidays, it is only on Purim that one is encouraged to overindulge in drink, and even get a bit inebriated. While one can fulfill this mitzvah of drinking on Purim with wine served in any manner, I personally find that there is no more pleasant way to indulge than with a glass (or several) of a good, wine-based punch.

While the exact origins of punch are somewhat unclear, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, it was one of the most popular drinks in the English speaking world, and for good reason: A well-appointed punch bowl has an almost magic-like ability to make any happy occasion seem just a bit more festive. Punch allows a host to create something personally for family and friends, and not just open another bottle of wine. Plus there is a unique communal experience in sharing a bowl of punch.

What follows are two easy-to-make recipes for wine-based punches, both of which are adapted from recipes found in one of the classic volumes of mixology: Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book, “The Gentleman’s Companion, Volume II: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask.” Baker, whose works are more culinary travelogues than recipe books, spent his life traveling the world, chronicling the food and drinks he sampled in the pages of publications such as “Esquire” and “Gourmet.” While Baker may not have been Jewish, based on his writings he strikes me as someone who would have enjoyed a lively Purim seudah.

Bengal Lancers Punch (serves 10)

Baker wrote that a “Captain Ferguson, late of His Majesty’s Cavalry in upper India, gave us this one back in 1926, and it was a specialty of his Colonel on quite special occasions.”

1 bottle of Bartenura Prosecco, Moses Cava, or another dry sparkling white wine

1 bottle of Baron Herzog Merlot, Carmel Selected Cabernet Sauvignon, or another medium-bodied dry red

6 tablespoons of lime juice (approximately 4 limes

6 tablespoons of orange juice (approximately 1½ oranges)

6 tablespoons of pineapple juice (juice from a can or a carton can be used in a pinch)

4-6 tablespoons of simple syrup (to taste)

4½ tablespoons of dark Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross would be my choice)

4½ tablespoons of Cointreau

a 12-ounce can of seltzer

a lime, thinly sliced

a block of ice

Place the block of ice in the 3½ quart or larger punch bowl and add the ingredient in the following order: red wine, rum, juices, syrup, Cointreau, sparkling wine, and seltzer. Stir the punch, and float the lime slices on top as a garnish.

Mulled Claret à la Gulmarg (serves 5)

While I usually prefer to serve iced punches on Purim, at time of writing it’s -1° Fahrenheit outside. So I am thinking that this might be the year for a hot wine punch. Baker got this recipe from a British carvery officer, stationed in the Kashmiri foothills of the Himalayas, on the occasion of a grouse shoot.

1 bottle of Golan Mountain Pinot Noir, Goose Bay Pinot Noir, or another fruity, medium-bodied, dry Pinot Noir

1 lemon, sliced thinly and deseeded

1/2 banana sliced thinly

12 whole cloves

6 allspice berries

2 cinnamon sticks

1 cup of dark rum (I find the 8 year old Bacardi works well here)

½ cup of brown sugar (or less to taste)|

1 cup of seltzer (at room temperature)

Cheesecloth and kitchen twine.

Tie the sliced fruit slices and spices together in a piece of cheese cloth, and place in a sauce pan with the wine, cover, and bring to a simmer for approximately ten minutes. Remove from the flame, and discard the fruit and spices. Add the sugar and rum, and stir until dissolved. Then add the seltzer, stir, and serve foaming.

A few words on ingredients and technique:

When making punch it is important to use only quality ingredients.

When a recipe calls for juice, try to use fresh juices that were juiced within a day of making the punch. Citrus fruits should be juiced at room temperature, as they will yield more juice when warm. If you don’t own a juicer, don’t worry. As most punches only require a small amount of juice, a hand held citrus reamer will work nicely. Strain the juice through a wire-mesh strainer or a few layers of cheesecloth to remove seeds and pulp, as these may cloud a punch.

As sugar dissolves slowly in cold liquids, it is best to use a simple sugar syrup in cold punches. To make simple syrup pour a cup of superfine sugar and a cup of water into a small sauce pan and heat over a low flame, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. One can also buy a pre-made simple syrup, such as Liquid Sugar in the Raw, or Monin Pure Cane Syrup.

Another crucial ingredient, and one that is often overlooked, is ice. When making cold punch one should always use a solid block of ice, at least three or four inches thick on each side. Ice cubes will melt much quicker than a solid block and dilute the punch. To make an ice block simply fill a plastic food container two-thirds filled with water and freeze overnight. Use distilled water to create clearer ice.

For cold punches, it is important that all the ingredients, and the punch bowl itself, are well chilled before making the punch. When making hot punches, all of the ingredients should be at room temperature.

Before serving a cold punch rinse the glasses with ice water, so the temperature of the glass should not a rise the temperature of the punch. Likewise rinse the mugs or teacups to be used for a hot punch with boiling water before serving.

By Gamliel Kronemer

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