What Would a Pilgrim Drink?

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While I’m all about celebrating holidays with the appropriate beverages, Thanksgiving is a tough one. That November day in 1621, the Pilgrims—bless their grim, determined souls—found themselves sweating things out at the end of a very long, very thin supply line. That meant, among other things, no wine, no beer and not even any gin. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants without gin? It doesn’t bear thinking about.) So what say we forget about celebrating 1621-style and take our next option.

Abraham Lincoln made the holiday official in 1863. By then not only was there plenty of strong drink to be had, but we Americans were leading the world in the mixological arts. As proof, I offer the USS Richmond Punch—a Civil War-era concoction christened after a ship that would go on to be one of the longest-serving in the history of the Navy. It may seem time-consuming, but what better way to keep the hangers-on busy while you cook? And after a couple of cups of this rich, delightful and stimulating mixture (you can thank the tea for that last part), you’ll have something to truly give thanks for.

USS Richmond Punch

Contributed by David Wondrich

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 Lemons
  • 1.5 cups Superfine sugar
  • 1 pint Strong black tea
  • 1 pint Dark Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross or Myers’s)
  • 1 pint VS or VSOP-grade cognac (Martell)
  • 1 pint Ruby port (Graham’s Six Grapes)
  • 4 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1.5 liters Seltzer or champagne

Garnish: Thin lemon slices and grated nutmeg

Glass: Punch

PREPARATION:

The day before Thanksgiving, put a 2- or 3-quart bowl of water in the freezer. On Thanksgiving morning, peel 6 lemons with a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, trying not to get any of the white pith. Muddle the peels with 1.5 cups of superfine sugar and let sit for an hour for the lemon oil to leach out. Juice the peeled lemons. Make 1 pint of strong black tea (use 2 teabags). Combine tea, lemon juice and sugar/lemon oil mixture. Strain out the peels. In a gallon container, combine tea/lemon/sugar mix and1 pint rum, 1 pint cognac, 1 pint ruby port and 4 oz Grand Marnier. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To serve, unmold the block of ice in a 2-gallon punch bowl. Add the chilled punch stock and top off with 1.5 liters chilled seltzer (or, if feeling dangerous, champagne). Garnish with 1 seeded lemon sliced thin and grated nutmeg. Serves 20.

David Wondrich is the author of the award-winning book Imbibe! and Esquire magazine’s Drinks Correspondent.

Series & Type: History Trends

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