Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Punch Drunk

By Keir Graff

DECEMBER 28, 1998:  We eye them curiously; outmoded, oversized relics of a slower age. They linger in antique shops, lurk on top shelves and lie unwanted at garage sales and thrift stores. Some garish, some cherished, these empty vessels seem hollow from lack of use. I speak, of course, of punch bowls.

Today, the thought of assembling a dozen ingredients for one party refreshment seems quaint but ludicrous, a throwback to the days of hoop skirts and proper etiquette. What people forget is that punch bowls are actually an entertainment convenience: rather than mixing and pouring all night, a host with foresight stirs up a bowl, arms his guests with cups and joins in the merriment.

Dipping deeply into history, the Wassail bowl traces its ancestry as far back as English Lit survey foe Beowulf, who quaffed a similar stuff called Lambswool - named for the shaggy froth formed by the eggs. Stout, warming, and delicious, it tastes a little like rice pudding. Quash your qualms and think of it as a field trip to the mixological museum. This recipe, from Mr. Boston's Bar Guide, captures the old Saxon flavor of the brew better than most recipes. You may wish to halve the sugar.

Wassail Bowl
2 cups water
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 sticks cinnamon
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
4 coriander seeds
4 cardamom seeds
2 750-ml bottles cream sherry
64 oz. ale
4 cups sugar
12 eggs, separated
1 cup brandy
Combine water and spices in a large saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sherry and ale, and stir in sugar. Heat, but do not boil. Beat 12 egg yolks until they are pale and thick; fold in 12 stiffly-beaten egg whites. Strain half the ale-and-sherry mixture over the eggs. Pour into a warmed punch bowl. Bring the remaining hot mixture to a boil and strain into punch bowl. Add brandy and apples.

Whatever you do, don't cook the eggs with the punch, else you'll end up with what one veteran calls "Wassail meringue."

Glgg, of Scandinavian origin, is lighter but still an immensely flavorful hot punch. It, too, requires some real prep, but the results will have your guests donning horned hats and singing lustily - just make sure they don't pillage the neighborhood on the way out. There are as many ways to make Glgg as there are oars on a Viking long-ship, but here is one that, significantly, involves fire:

1 bottle tawny port
1 bottle Madeira
1 bottle medium dry sherry
1/2 bottle red wine
15 cloves
15 cardamom seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 pound lump sugar
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup raisins
1 cup blanched almonds
Combine all ingredients except the sugar, brandy, raisins and nuts, in a heavy saucepan and heat slowly. When the wine mixture is hot, place a rack on top of the saucepan so that it covers half of it. Arrange the sugar cubes on the rack, warm the brandy, pour it over the sugar and set it alight. Ladle the wine mixture over the flaming sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Serve in eight-ounce mugs, garnished with almonds and raisins.

When you really need your punch to pack a wallop, bring out the big guns. Artillery Punch is a bright-nosed boozer's dream, yet respectable enough to be included in early editions of the redoubtable "Joy of Cooking." It's easy to make, not too sweet and can withstand a full-frontal assault by your most bibulous friends.

Artillery Punch
Combine and stir well:
1 cup sugar
juice of 6 lemons
Add and mix well:
2 tablespoons bitters
1 quart claret (dry red wine)
1 quart sherry
1 quart rye, bourbon or Scotch whiskey
1 quart brandy
Pour over a block of ice in a punch bowl.
Add: 1 quart club soda
Be sure not to use sherry that's too cheap, and consider doubling the rye to - seriously - improve the flavor.

A few final tips... If you think you may need to refill the punch bowl during a party, mix what you can ahead of time and keep it handy to cut down on frantic kitchen time. Also, as some people may not like the punch, be sure to have other drinks handy - but don't overdo it, that's why you made punch. Lastly, stout foods should accompany stronger punches, to keep your guests' drives home from becoming slay rides.

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