Because it has been a shamefully long time since I graced you with an update, I have many things I could write about right now. I cracked the code on what is nearly perfect chili, made my own tonic water, and baked some truly fabulous peanut butter cookies. But I feel that we must begin at the beginning, and that is a lovely class I attended on punch-making in December with my good friend Nandi and her husband, the Baby Panda (BP).
Nandi had found the class via Slow Food Boston. Slow Food started in Rome back in 1986. as a response to a McDonald’s being built near the Spanish Steps. The opposite of fast food is, you guessed it, slow food. What began as a reaction to international big business interests became over time an advocacy group focused on “Good, Clean, Fair” food. The Boston chapter apparently also has some cocktail enthusiasts, however, and they arranged a punch-making class at perennial Adventures in Food favorite Craigie on Main.
When we arrived at Craigie on an extremely cold, blustery day, bar manager Ted Gallagher greeted us with Charles Dickens Punch, served hot, sweet, and spiced.
(Sadly, you mostly get the aftermath, because it was very tasty. Loved the use of the rosemary sprig to simulate pine branches!) Like the Red Hot Ale served at the Science of the Cocktail lecture, this is a drink that involves setting things on fire, so we didn’t actually get to watch the process of making it (though there was some cell phone video footage), but it was a nice way to kick off the class on a cold winter day!
Ted quickly got us started making an oleo saccharum, the base of most classic punches. Oleo saccharum translates, quite literally, as oily sugar, and it’s the product of taking some citrus peels and some sugar and first muddling the hell out of them,and then leaving them alone for a while. You have to peel the citrus carefully to get as much oil and as little bitter pith as possible.
Next, you dump a bunch (carefully measured, of course) of sugar in and start muddlin’!
I confessed to the group that I secretly sort of love to muddle – sure it’s tedious, but it’s satisfying and oddly cathartic. This earned me control of the muddler for most of the class. I think the others were afraid of it.
While we muddled away, Ted brought out some Milk Punch for us to sample. They’d made three kinds.
(You can see my hand, muddling like a fiend in the background of this shot. Obvi, I did not take this picture. It, and some of the others in this post, were taken by the BP and his fancy new phone. Thanks, BP!) The orange glass was strawberry milk punch, with strawberry bourbon, black tea, and dehydrated strawberry powder. The pink was hibiscus gin with lemon, sage, and apricot liqueur, while the yellow was rum-based, with toasted coconut and pear. I like the orange the best, and the yellow least, due to my mixed feelings regarding coconut.
In case you’ve forgotten what milk punch is, basically you combine a liquor, milk, and citrus to coagulate said milk. You strain off the resultant solids and get a clear but creamy tasting product that tastes like whatever you put in. It’s a bit time-consuming, so Ted showed us the process, but the samples had all been prepped well before hand.
You know what’s gross? Coagulated milk solids. Ted told a horrifying story of a bartender who battered and fried those things. I know it’s the basis of cheese, but yuck. Despite my complaints, however, I really want to make this myself. It’s so wonderfully mad sciencey.
For the final punch, Ted demonstrated that punch is really all about ratios – if you understand the proportions (about 3 lemons to 750ml of alcohol) you can throw in whatever flavors strike your fancy and be just fine. We made a sort of punch by committee – Ted mixed, we told him what spirits to use. By all rights it shouldn’t have worked, we had so many assertive liquors in there. Balmore Scotch, with the iodine smell of peat, the funk of Batavia Arack and Smith and Cross rum, two kinds of citrus – but when it all came together it was like magic.
All in all, this was a great class with a good mix of hands-on-work and samples. I can’t wait to have a big party and try out some of the principles – it should be great!