by Carlo DeVito
Valley celebrity Washington Irving once wrote a travel memoir entitled Old Christmas, recalling the holidays at a great English manor house. Amongst the yuletide traditions was the celebrating of the season with wassail. As Irving described it, "The butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skillful mixture of which he particularly prided himself. . . ."
And these days, what’s old is what’s new. In olden times, a large bowl of libation was always a key component. Back in the days of carriages and sleighs, hosts would make large bowls of punch, wassail, and flip to deliver warmth to their cold guests. Irving, Charles Dickens, and even George Washington were fond of such punches. And each had their own recipes.
So, this year bring an old-fashioned Christmas back . . . but with a Hudson Valley twist! These classic punch, wassail, and flip recipes have been updated with a little Hudson Valley local flavor. It’ll be just like stepping into an old Currier & Ives print! Look for the specially selected Hudson Valley brands at the end of the article! And happy holidays!
Where is it? You know you have one. When’s the last time you used it? As a bowl for potato chips at your last party perhaps? Maybe it’s in the basement or attic? Yes, we’re talking about your punch bowl! Time to bring that thing out and show it some love.
The word punch is an adaptation of the Hindi word paantsch, which means "five," because the mixture was usually based on a recipe blending five ingredients: spirits, sugar, lemon, water, and tea (or spices). Punch was brought back to England by sailors of the British East India Company in the early seventeenth century and spread throughout Europe from there. Ornate punch bowls, ceramic or silver, quickly became popular. This was a time before bottling had become more ubiquitous and commonplace. It was the easiest way to serve guests and was thought to be fun and festive.
Charles Dickens Punch
This is Charles Dickens’ own recipe for punch. It is sourced from a letter Dickens wrote on January 18, 1847 to Amelia Austin Filloneau, affectionately known as "Mrs. F." Since this punch is served warm, a heated pot like a Crock-pot or deep chaffing dish might be your better choice here. Here’s the recipe in Dickens’ own words:
3 lemons rinds
1 cup sugar
1 pt rum
1/2 pt brandy
1 qt water (boiling)
1. Peel into a very strong common basin the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin, and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit.
2. Add sugar, rum, and brandy. Stir.
3. Take a ladle full of brandy and light on fire, and ladle gently into bowl. Let it burn for three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame.
4. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons.
5. Add quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.
6. Skim off the lemon pieces with a spoon. Take the lemon peel out, or it will acquire a bitter taste.
7. If this is not sweet enough, add more sugar to your liking.
8. Serve warm.
Note: The same punch allowed to cool by degrees, and then iced, is delicious. It also requires less sugar.
Martha Washington Punch
Martha Washington was the First Lady of America for eight years and the keeper of President Washington for a great many. George liked his libations and was fond of social gatherings where he could imbibe and play cards. This is the great First Lady’s famous rum and citrus drink. You will need a pitcher to make the first part of this recipe.
21 oz rum
6 oz Grand Marnier
9 oz fresh lemon juice
9 oz fresh orange juice
9 oz spiced simple syrup*
6 oz club soda
1. Combine, in a large pitcher, all the ingredients except the club soda. Place in a refrigerator until cold.
2. While pitcher is chilling make spiced simple syrup (or make days ahead).
3. Fill the punch bowl half with ice. If possible, use a small block of ice. If not, use large ice cubes.
4. Add now cold mixture from the refrigerator to the bowl.
5. Add club soda and stir.
6. Garnish with slices of lemon and orange, and sprinkle with grated nutmeg.
Spiced Simple Syrup
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 star anise pods
2 cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar fully dissolves. Remove from heat, and let stand until cool. Strain through cheese cloth, and refrigerate until needed.
This exotic punch is taken from the pages of The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock, published in 1917. Madeira and sherry were common additions to punches in the 1700s and 1800s. This recipe will make approximately 2 1/2 gallons, enough for 40 folks.
6 whole lemon rinds
1 box strawberries
2 lemons, sliced
6 oranges, sliced
1 pineapple, cut into small pieces
1 qt brandy
1 qt sherry
1 qt Madeira wine
1 lb sugar
4 bottles sparkling wine
2 qt seltzer
1. In a large punch bowl, bruise the skins of six lemons in one pound of bar sugar.
2. Add strawberries, lemon and orange slices, pineapple, brandy, sherry, and Madeira.
3. Add large block of ice or half a bowl of large cubed ice.
4. Add sparkling wine and seltzer.
Wassail, which in Old English meant literally "be you healthy," refers both to the salute "Waes Hail" and to the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, originally an ancient southern English drinking ritual which commenced in November after the harvest to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
Today, wassail is a hot, mulled punch often associated with Christmas. Historically, the drink was a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine (usually red), fruit juice, or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix.
Colonial Hot Cider Punch
In America, wassail was a common drink in many farming communities, especially apple farming communities like the Hudson Valley, where cider was the most common available drink. Fun and flavorful and very warming, this is actually more akin to the original classic wassails made back in England. Serve with pound cake, nut cake, or cheese and crackers. Serves 40.
1 Gallon heated apple cider (non-alcoholic)
1/2 quart rum
3 sticks cinnamon
1/2 ounce brandy flavoring
3 to 6 whole oranges
small bag of whole cloves
1. Simmer mixture with three whole sticks cinnamon to melt — DO NOT COOK.
2. Allow to cool, and pour into punch bowl.
3. Separately stick whole cloves around entire surface of three to six whole oranges.
4. Place oranges into baking pan with 1/2 inch of water, and bake at 350° for 45 minutes.
5. Place oranges into punch bowl.
This wassail reflects the ingredients that were available to colonists in early America. If one lived in an area where apples were not in large supply or lived in an established metropolitan city like Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, he or she often added more sophisticated potents to their wassail. This recipe serves 15-20 folks.
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
3 lemon slices
2 cups pineapple juice
2 cups orange juice
6 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup sherry
1. Boil the sugar, cinnamon sticks, and lemon slices in 1/2 cup of water for five minutes and strain.
2. Heat the remaining ingredients, being careful not to boil
3. Combine with the syrup, and serve hot.
There is a whole classification of drinks called flips. These are alcoholic beverages made with eggs in them. George Washington was said to be very fond of flips. The most popular of the drinks was eggnog.
The origin of eggnog dates back to medieval European times. Many believe that the version we know today dates back to an English recipe called an egg flip. When the drink made its way to the American colonies, it was called an "egg and grog," a common colonial term used for the drink made with rum. Eventually that term was shortened to "egg n’ grog," finally becoming "eggnog."
Whether in England or the colonies, the ingredients for the drink were expensive, so it came to be popular among the moneyed classes since fresh eggs and milk were not cheap commodities. In colonial America, brandy and wine were also heavily taxed, so inexpensive Caribbean rum was often substituted. But after the Revolutionary War, rum was more difficult to obtain, so whiskey became the popular spirit, which was plentiful and more patriotic; bourbon also became a popular addition to the mix.
Eggnog is a popular type of beverage all over the world. Similar combinations are known by other names such as Panche Crèma in Venezuela or Advocaat in central Europe. Because of the Valley’s rich dairy and farming history, eggnog has always been a mainstay of the holidays in our region. This new recipe features some local ingredients.
Hudson Valley Eggnog
6 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Additional grated nutmeg for garnish
Preparation: Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a heavy four-quart pot. Mix well. Slowly fold in milk until well mixed, whisking continually. Place pot on low burner continuously blending mixture. Stir approximately 25 to 30 minutes until the mixture coats your spoon completely.
Use a fine grade sieve to strain out any bits of egg. Add bourbon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract. Stir well. Pour into a bowl or pitcher, cover, and refrigerate (approximately 4 to 5 hours).
To serve, whip heavy cream into soft peaks, and then fold crème into custard mixture and fold until combined. Sprinkle with ground nutmeg. Ladle into cups.
Traditional Hot Poker Flip
Go back a little further in time, and you’ll find a lot of flips and punches were heated. Here’s a fun old colonial recipe that calls for a hot poker from your fireplace to heat the liquid. Make sure you scrub your poker before deciding to do this, or you might want to find a new soldering iron to provide a safer heating element! You’ll notice this flip is made with good ole fashioned Hudson Valley beer!
3 teaspoons sugar
1 jigger rum
1 jigger brandy
1 red-hot flip iron or poker heated in fireplace
a tall, all-pewter mug
12-16 ounces of beer or a sturdy pitcher
1. In a quart mug, break three eggs.
2. Add three teaspoons sugar, and stir well.
3. Add in the jigger of rum and brandy, beating meanwhile.
4. Fill remaining volume of mug with beer.
5. Insert red-hot iron until it hisses and foams.
6. The drink will become only warm.
Rum: Berkshire Distilling Rum; Albany Distilling Quackenbush Still House Rum; Tuthilltown Roggen’s Rum
Brandy: Harvest Spirits Cornelius Apple Brandy; Dutch’s Spirits Dutch
Peach Brandy: Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy
Sparkling Wine: Clinton Vineyards, Brotherhood Winery; Hudson-Chatham Winery; Whitecliff Winery
Cider: Applewood Winery; Warwick Valley Winery; Bad Seed; Kettleborough; Aaron Burr; Slyboro House
Sherry: Paperbirch Bannerman’s Castle Amber Cream; Pazdar Seduce Cream Sherry; Brotherhood Cream Sherry
Bourbon: Albany Distilling Ironweed Bourbon; Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon; Rebellion Bourbon; Hillrock Estate Bourbon; Warwick Black Dirt Bourbon