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Yuletide Cup of Cheer: Classic, Contemporary Christmas Punches and Wines

Gather round the punch bowl and fill your cup. It's time to welcome the holidays with a traditional cup of cheer or a pour of Port.

Time to toast the holidays.

“I’ll have a flaming rum punch. No make it mulled wine heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves,” the holiday drink request of Clarence (angel second class) in the film It’s A Wonderful Life.

Holiday libations such as these have filled countless holiday cups for centuries. On second thought make that millenniums considering mulled wine’s basic recipe has been traced to ancient Rome before it became associated with Christmas as the holiday drink of choice, thanks to Charles Dickens who mentions it in his timeless tale, A Christmas Carol.

Mulled wine along with other punches, whether flaming or not, in recent years has enjoyed a comeback. Perhaps due to renewed interest in the Victorian and Edwardian Age thanks to the Downton Abbey. Nonetheless, the holidays are reason enough to bring dig out grandma's punch bowl and fill it with your favorite seasonal drink. My favorites are those that are flavorful and a have history to savor. 

Many vintage punch recipes call for large amounts of hard spirits mixed with cider, infused citrus flavored water or red wines such as port, the historic wine choice for Christmas punches. Champagne is the base for Roman Punch, a fashionable citrus 19th Century-style slushy that appeared on upscale 19th century banquet menus just not during the holiday but year round.

“Champagne punch conveys a flair of elegance,” said Butler’s Pantry owner Richard Nix Jr. commenting on how the inclusion of sparkling wine punches using either a classic or contemporary recipe offers a traditional touch to the holiday table.

Besides punch, Port (a fortified wine in which brandy is added) has been a must-have at the Victorian Christmas table since the 18th Century. Brits still include a bottle of Port as a part of their table traditions. Likewise, 19th Century Missourians enjoyed a glass of Christmas Port produced locally by Missouri vintners. After a hundred years, Port production continues at Mount Pleasant Estates in Augusta, Missouri.

“Mount Pleasant has made Port since the 1890s,” said Chuck Dressel, president Mount Pleasant Estates, which was founded in 1859. “Port is a strange mixture. We take red grapes and brandy - age it in French oak barrels for two years that is then bottled and aged 2-3 years more. Port is prefect for the holidays as a dessert wine paired with cheese, ice creams, chocolate and buttery cakes.”

Over the next week bring family and friends together to raise a cup to toast the season. To help make Christmas a little more merry - mix and ladle up any of the following updated historic and contemporary punch recipes, courtesy of Butler’s Pantry and Suzanne Corbett.

Lemon Drop Champagne Punch

  • 3 lemons, room temperature
  • 1/3  cup sugar
  • 1 bottle champagne, chilled
  • 3/4 cup vodka, chilled
  • 4 ounces candied lemon peels 

With a vegetable peeler, remove zest from each lemon in a long, continuous spiral. Juice lemons, and strain pulp (you should have 3/4 cup juice). Set aside. Heat sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add zest. Let syrup cool completely, about 2 hours.

Pour champagne, vodka, lemon juice, and syrup into a punch bowl; stir. Serve glasses of punch with candied peels.

Cranberry, Tangerine and Pomegranate Punch

  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries, for swizzle sticks
  • 1 bunch mint, for swizzle sticks
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (about five pomegranates)
  • 3 cups freshly squeezed tangerine juice (about seven tangerines)
  • 5 cups cranberry-juice cocktail
  • 2 bottles champagne

Spear three cranberries alternately with two mint leaves on each wooden skewer. Place skewers on a baking sheet; cover with damp paper towels, and refrigerate up to one hour.

In a large punch bowl, stir together fruit juices. Fill the glasses with ice, and ladle a 1/2 cup punch into each glass; top with champagne. Garnish each glass with a swizzle stick.

Algonquin Punch

  • Peel from 4 lemons (removed in strips with vegetable peeler)
  • 1/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries, divided
  • 3 cups Gin
  • 2 cups fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups dark rum
  • 6 cups ice cubes
  • 1 ice block*
  • 2 cups chilled champagne
  • Lemon slices

Place lemon peel strips in large bowl. Add sugar and mash with muddler or wooden spoon to infuse sugar with lemon. Add 1 1/4 cups raspberries and mash to blend. Pour in gin, lemon juice, and rum. Add ice cubes; stir to blend. Refrigerate punch 20 minutes. Place ice block in punch bowl. Strain punch over ice block into bowl. Add champagne; stir to blend. Garnish punch with lemon slices and remaining 3/4 cup raspberries.

*To make the ice block, fill a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with water and freeze it solid. Dip the pan into hot water to release the ice block.Mulled Cider Wassail

(Recipe developed by Suzanne Corbett for the historic holiday dinners served at Jefferson Barracks Historic Park)

  • whole cloves
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 quart apple cider
  • 1 bottle red wine

Forming three circles, push cloves into the top, middle and bottom of orange. Cut orange into slices between clove lines. Place in a large saucepan. Add cinnamon stick, allspice, and cider. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add red wine and heat until warm. Serve in mugs or punch cups. Serves 6 – 8  

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