Everyone is now thinking about seasonal eating, especially in the Hudson Valley, where we enjoy a variety of foods harvested from April through November. But what about seasonal drinking? You wouldn't drink a margarita in January, would you? Well, maybe you would, and your secret is safe with any bartender—we saints of discretion—but why not a cocktail to match the season?
The Saint Nicholas Punch is my take on the traditional spiced wine punch common throughout Europe that's served during the holidays, tweaked for the adventurous modern palate. A spiced wine punch should be an incredibly luscious, bold, and rich hot quaff with an alcohol content low enough to withstand multiple glasses during holiday gatherings. This recipe will make 20 three-ounce servings, just enough to get the party started.
20 oz. Port, preferably a quality Tawny
2 Lemons, peels only
1 Orange, peels only
½ Cup Prunes
16 Cloves, whole
3 Cinnamon Sticks, broken
8 Cardamom Pods, crushed lightly between fingertips
4 oz. Orgeat (sweet almond syrup), or more to taste
18 oz. Lillet Blanc
6 oz. Cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand 1840
24 oz. Water
Crock-Pot or large pot
Peel the lemons and the orange. Combine with the cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom pods in cheesecloth and tie with string.
Add the Port, prunes, orgeat, and cheesecloth with spices to a Crock-Pot or large pot. Heat gently over low heat and let infuse for about 30 minutes or so; the longer the better really but never let this boil. Remove and discard cheesecloth of spices. Strain the infused Port and reserve the prunes for later use.
Combine infused Port mixture, Lillet Blanc, Cognac, and water into a Crock-pot (if you have one) and heat until warm. You can serve directly out of this for the entire party. If not, combine these ingredients in a large pot, heat over low heat, and serve warm out of pot or punch bowl, if you've got it!
Take those reserved Port-soaked prunes and use them as a garnish in either the glass or in the punch bowl along with some clove studded orange slices. Or, serve them alongside spiced gingerbread cookies and maybe a soft creamy goat cheese from France. Cheers.