The easiest — and most fun — holiday parties should always come with a big bowl of boozy punch. In this week's column from restaurateur, cocktail maestro and cookbook author Jerry Slater, learn how to fill that bowl with the South's original party drink: Chatham Artillery Punch.
The holidays are upon us. That wonderful time when we do a little less work and socialize a little bit more. In our busy lives, maybe we need an excuse to pause and spend time with friends and family. That excuse can be a cocktail party that offers ample opportunity to be with the ones we love.
I too like to have a good time when hosting. I also recognize that an invitation to the Slater’s for a party comes with the expectation of good cocktails. But I would rather be telling stories than tied to the bar cart. It does not mean that for small dinner parties I mind making a round of cocktails, especially a “wet” martini. Bigger parties, on the other hand, are a different story.
This is where a punch bowl comes in handy. I have heard from many a friend that, “a good Southern household needs a punch bowl.” And, for larger gathering, a flowing bowl of punch takes the pressure off “working” and leaves me time to be present for my guests. My bowl came as an anniversary gift from my wife, when my last restaurant, H. Harper Station, was turning three years old. It is large, and silver, with a great ladle. It is beautiful and practical; I use it often and do not keep it as a decoration or display piece.
One of the oldest and most well-known American punch bowl recipes comes from Savannah, GA: Chatham Artillery Punch. Mixed in a bucket by the local militia, it was both a celebration and a challenge for visiting dignitaries in the early 1800s. Booze heavy, the punch is a mix of oleo-saccharum, or lemon-oil sugar, and the three spirits readily available in the mid-nineteenth century: cognac, rum and bourbon. It is topped off with equal portions of sparkling wine for a celebratory note. Spring for Champagne if you really want to impress.
A note of warning: This is a punch for a larger party. Also, cheap gas station or grocery store ice is just fine to use here because you need the dilution. Save the fancy ice ring mold for a less potent punch. I once made this punch for a friend’s book signing with a solid ice mass, and let’s just say, the resulting intoxication was quicker than desired.
Old Chatham Artillery Punch
Serves: At least 20
Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Total time: About 1 1/2 hours
2 cups light raw sugar
1 (750-ml) bottle VSOP cognac
1 (750-ml) bottle bourbon
1 (750-ml) bottle Jamaican-style rum
3 (750-ml) bottles brut Champagne, chilled
1 (5-pound) bag ice
Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons, leaving as much of the white pith behind as possible. Reserve the peeled lemons for the punch.
Place the peels in a large bowl and add the sugar. Use a muddler or a wooden spoon to firmly pound and grind the peels into the sugar, releasing their essential oils. Cover and leave the mixture to sit in a warm place until the sugar as liquefied and the lemon peels have more fully released their oils, about 1 hour. Muddle the mixture again.
Halve the lemons and juice them into the bowl with the peel-sugar mixture. Stir and then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl with a spout. Strain into an empty 750-ml bottle. Add enough water to fill any remaining space in the bottle, seal, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, combine the cognac, bourbon, rum and lemon juice mixture. Add ice to the bowl, leaving enough room for the Champagne. Stir to chill and dilute the punch. Top off with the Champagne, smile and serve.
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Photo Credit (Punch): Michael Korcuska/Flickr (license)
Photo Credit (Bowl): Brian Teutsch/Flickr (license)