Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas...

We're only half way through Christmastide, the traditional celebration of the season that lasts over twelve days beginning with Christmas Day. I think it's a far better way to observe the litugical season rather than the stressful, contemporary - and highly commercial -"one and done" approach.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of Christmastide is Twelfth Night, a party marking the end of the season. Being that January 5 comes on a weekday, I doubt many people will enjoy those parties this year, but just in case, I bring you a Savannah tradition to add to your enjoyment of the season's end:

It's time to prepare the punch for Twelfth Night - January 5 - that most ancient festival on the eve of Epiphany!

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf, only it was better. Much better. The container - pictured - was as elegant as the beverage. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq. Today, the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than with one cup of this wonderful drink. And I do mean ONE cup savored over an evening .

In my opinion, the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely although I'm sure they varied over the years depending on the ingredients at hand. (A Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch in 2006.) We're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice, then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week. No sampling allowed. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice, add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly in an appropriate setting. It is not for every party. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

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