Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Three Festive Holiday Punches | Cup of Jo


how to host a punchbowl party

A few weeks ago, an invitation arrived in my inbox: “Join us for a Punchbowl Party!”

It was from Lee, who is my Fun Friend, the kind of friend whose name is always right at the very top when I’m drawing up my own party guest list, the kind of friend who would of course have a Punchbowl Party.

What is a Punchbowl Party? It’s just a regular party, but with a big bowl of punch, thereby immediately transforming a regular event into something festive. Lo and behold, when I arrived at Lee’s house, everyone was standing around the table with the punch, talking about the punch, praising the punchbowl (vintage, her mom’s), ladling the punch (using her mom’s antique silver ladle), and of course drinking the punch. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Lee’s family is from the South, where they know from punches.

“My mother used to make something called Artillery Punch that was lethal,” she told me, and was also, perhaps, “an acquired taste.” Then Lee tried the Presidential Punch at New York’s historic Fraunces Tavern a few years ago, and thought, ‘That’s like an actually tasty version of my mom’s.’ Here’s the recipe.

Presidential Punch

1 bottle Rye
1 bottle Orange Curaçao (Lee used Cointreau)
2 ounces Goslings Dark Rum
1 ounce Angostura Bitters
peach tea (in approximately the same amount as the rye; Lee brewed a pitcher of Celestial Seasonings)
fresh lemon and orange slices for garnish

Lee also had a pitcher of lemonade at the ready, so people could doctor its strength, or “add a little sweetness and zing.”

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Cup of Jo friend Odette Williams, who writes an entertaining column for the Wall Street Journal, also loves a punchbowl moment, but recommends keeping it simple and just scaling a classic cocktail that you love. (Like a citrusy, perennial Paper Plane.) Unlike Lee, Lee’s mom, and me, Odette actually avoids fruit-filled drinks. “Get that bobbing, soggy fruit outta my punchbowl,” she says. “It always gets left behind in cup.” But the most important punch rule for her: “It’s gotta be bloody cold.” To that end, she suggests using a large ice cube made in Tupperware. That way the ice chills the punch over time without diluting it.

Of course, punches don’t have to contain alcohol — or even ice — to shout “We’re at a Punchbowl Party!” John deBary, the New York hospitality consultant and author of two cocktail books, recommends a wassail, aka a spiced large-format drink, like the one below, typically served warm during the holidays in cold-weather regions. Enamored of the movie Home Alone — and of Chicago winters in general — John imagines the MaCallister family might drink something like this.

MaCallister Wassail
(from Saved By the Bellini, by John deBary)

15 to 20 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
20 cardamom pods
12 star anise pods
Peels of 3 medium oranges
4 cups apple cider
25 dashes Angostura bitters

In a large pan over medium heat, combine the cloves, vanilla bean and scraped seeds, cardamom, and star anise. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the orange peels, cider, and bitters. Stir occasionally, until warmed through (do not boil), about 10 minutes. Ladle into heatproof mugs. Note: If you are using vanilla extract instead of the bean, add the liquid with the cider and bitters.

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What about you? Do you have a favorite holiday punch or festive drink?

P.S. Five things we noticed at Odette’s drinks party, and the #1 best party snack of all time, without a doubt, no questions.



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