Today we welcome Jesse Goldstein, one of Nashville, Tennessee’s resident cocktail experts, as a regular contributor to our Journal. Jesse will be sharing stories of Southern culture and the spirits that surround it. Look for a cocktail recipe each month—including traditional mixed drinks and their modern interpretations.
One of my favorite things as a kid was going to the local volunteer fire department potluck suppers with my family. The quilt-covered folding tables were loaded with all sorts of casseroles, gelatin-based “salads”, and sweets that I would never get to eat the like of at home. One of my ultimate treats was what most people in the South like to call “church punch.” This version was made with a combination of ginger ale, pineapple juice, and sherbet and was like drinking pure sugar from the little waxed paper cup. I remember pretending not to love it for my parents’ sake but secretly savoring every sip of the sugary nectar.
Luckily our tastes change as we grow older. These days I prefer my salads without colored gelatin and cringe at the thought of how sweet that punch was. But there is something wonderful about the convivial aspect of a big bowl of punch and there’s no reason it can’t be brought forward to today with a recipe you would be proud to serve—to adults, that is.
Punch has an incredible history that goes back hundreds of years. Long before the invention of the cocktail, spirits were consumed socially in the form of punch. Made in large batches, punches were ideal for celebrations of all sorts. Times have changed, but punches still have a place at a party. All my friends know I’m a big fan of cocktails, but I personally prefer making punches when I’m entertaining. A good batch of punch takes time, effort, and the investment of good spirits that good friends are worthy of.
Historically, punches have a combination of citrus, sugar, and spice balanced by proportions of water and spirits. Many punches are made with tea in place of water, which adds complexity. I personally prefer a mix of strong-brewed herbal or black tea and seltzer or mineral water to add a little sparkle to the punch. A little ginger beer goes a long way in adding delicious spice. As for the spirit side of things, go with a good-quality whiskey, aged rum or bourbon, as these will add further flavor to your punch. Finally, I suggest taking the time to extract the oils from the lemon peel prior to making a punch. You’ll see the method below—it adds immense depth to the citrus flavor in your finished punch and is worth the time and effort. You could also use the same technique with oranges, but I don’t recommend doing the same with lime peels. Lime oil can tend to have a little bitterness, so just the juice from limes will be enough.
When making a punch, chill all ingredients before combining and mix just before serving. If ice is needed, I prefer to use a large block of ice, but cubes will do if you’re short on time. If using ice, reduce the water content in your punch to compensate. This means it might be a little boozy at the beginning of your party, but will water down as the event lingers on—which can be a good thing indeed.
BOURBON CHAMOMILE “CHURCH PUNCH”
4 cups water
6 chamomile tea bags
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 cups ginger beer (2 cans), chilled
2 liters seltzer, chilled
1 750ml bottle bourbon
1 quart mango sorbet
Edible flowers and fresh mint for garnish
Start by extracting the oil from your lemon peels. Wash them well with dish soap, warm water and a mildly-abrasive scrubbing pad. Pat them dry. Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of the lemon peel, trying to just peel the yellow portion, leaving as much of the white pith behind. Save the lemons for juicing later.
Place the strips in a non-reactive bowl and add the sugar. (Non-reactive bowls are not porous and won’t alter the flavor of your juice. Think stainless steel or glass.) Muddle the peels and sugar, pressing the sugar into the peels until the sugar begins to dampen and color with the oil from the lemons. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least two hours.
Prep your mango sorbet in advance. Chill a dish in your freezer to keep your scoops from melting and portion the sorbet into the chilled dish. Return to the freezer for a minimum of two hours.
Brew strong tea by pouring 4 cups boiling water over the tea bags and letting them steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and refrigerate tea.
When ready to make the punch, begin by juicing the lemons and limes to get approximately one cup of juice. Pour the juice into the sugar and lemon peel mixture. Stir to combine and remove and discard the peels.
Add this sugar and citrus mix to your punch bowl. Pour the chilled tea into the bowl and stir until all sugar is dissolved. Add ginger beer, seltzer and bourbon and stir lightly.
Remove the prepared scoops of sorbet from the freezer and place them into your punch bowl. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and edible flowers.
Invite a few friends to come over for a visit and enjoy responsibly.