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A kick in the punch

Now that fall is just around the corner, I thought I'd provide a recipe for a popular red wine hot punch to serve your guests on a cool evening.

Punches can create a fun spirit to any party. They're truly an American tradition going back to the colonial times. It was not uncommon to arrive at a friend's house and be offered a cider, malt or wine punch filled with local fruit and spices. Many of the punches were held in ceramic jugs until the guests arrived, then heated with red-hot pokers which were hanging over the flames in the fireplace. The mugs would be passed around, then the host or hostess would briefly touch the hot end of the poker in the mug to heat the punch.

Any alcohol in the punches came from the natural fermentation of malt (beer), apples (cider) or grapes (wine). Some colonists used rum from the West Indies to add a little kick. The naturally fermented punches were very low in alcohol because of the juices and fruit. In adding pure spirits to the punches, one could regulate the alcohol level to the desired amount. Colonists also understood that the longer a punch was heated, especially boiled, the less alcohol seemed to remain in the punch. It was therefore customary to add any spirits at the very end of the heating process to keep the "spirits alive."

Another tale from that time indicated that a person who became "influenced" by the punch, or acted loudly or "danced from wall to wall," was said to be "under the spirits" or a "spirited" fellow.

Making a good, hot punch takes a firm hand and some creativity. The most important thing to understand is that the flavors of a punch will mask the alcohol. This can be a dangerous problem if caution is not taken. There is no reason to have alcohol as the driving force of the punch unless you want folks to get drunk, which should never be the case. Be careful and understand that the "great tasting" punch might be too much for your guests. Go easy. Here's the punch which has been a real winner for me:

  • 1 gallon red wine. This wine need not be anything but a jug wine or something from a box. There is no need to use really nice wine for punches as the wine will be diluted (cut down the proportions if using less red wine)
  • 4 cinnamon sticks or 2 Tbsps. cinnamon
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. allspice
  • 2 diced red apples
  • 4 oz. cherry juice
  • Handful of raisins
  • 1 cut, cross-sectioned orange, peel on (the peel adds a bit of astringency to the punch)

Heat 45 minutes in a Crock-Pot, then strain if desired.

The traditional serving should be in mugs for hot punches, punch glasses for cold punches. Crock-Pots are also perfect for the slow simmering of the wine and spices for those who wish a long heat time.

Dark rum is preferred for the American punch. You can also use American brandy, Apple Jack or whiskey. I never use spirits, but this is a personal preference. Also, some folks add a tiny bit of mint. I sometimes will pitch in a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon to bring the acidity up on the punch as it cuts the cloying effect. I also add a sliced lemon if I feel that the punch is just a little too sweet.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.