Christmas it, by its nature, a time when people make a point to get together and spread some holiday cheer. Often this means entertaining. Traditional Christmas cocktails include eggnog and wassail, but there are other ideas that can add an interest to a Christmas cocktail party.
Punch bowls were popular last century, but they don't have to be a stagnant standby. A party could always be themed with nostalgia; or the old bowl could reemerge with a new face lift. True punch is a work of art. There are many recipes on the internet for Christmas punch, but those containing cranberry or pomegranate juice are popular, for their taste as well as their coloring. Add vodka and an orange liqueur such as Grand Mariner or Cointreau to the fruit juice. Add orange peel with all the pith removed for decoration-the pith could give the punch a bitter aftertaste. Remember to chill the punch cups prior to serving. For added class, cranberries can be frozen in ice cube trays as a garnish for the glasses.
Hot rum punch is another classic that can be revived very successfully. Dissolve half a cup of superfine sugar into a bottle of dark rum over a low heat. In a separate pan, gently warm half a gallon of sweet apple cider, and two sticks of cinnamon bark. Press dried cloves into six sweet oranges, using between ten and twenty cloves in each. Place these in a warm oven, or microwave a few seconds at a time, until they start to soften. Put the oranges in a glass bowl and pour the warmed rum over them. Carefully set fire to it! That's right, well; guests should be impressed, right? Now the apple cider is poured into the punch bowl, and it will extinguish the fire. Serve the punch while it is still hot.
Eggnog is another jaded favorite when it comes to traditional Christmas cocktails. It can be purchased readymade in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores, but it's not hard to make from scratch. Be careful handling the raw eggs though, and ensure that only the freshest and best eggs are used. Separate the eggs, and beat the whites into stiff peaks for garnish. Set these aside, and, using clean equipment, beat 12 egg yolks with half a cup of superfine sugar, beating constantly to ensure it dissolves completely. Then add about half a pint of dark rum (brandy can be substituted). Stir in a pint of milk and half a pint of cream, keeping it moving to prevent things from curdling. Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture. Garnish with grated nutmeg. This will keep in the refrigerator up to a week, but it is by far at its best when consumed fresh.
Wassail is a drink that was immortalized in a carol, but few people take the time to make it. The word refers both to the drink, and to the greeting, 'Waes hail, or 'health to you.' The wassail punch is rather complicated, consisting of apples, sugar, water, ale, cloves and other spices, and egg yolks. The egg whites are whipped and added as a garnish, much the same as in the above recipe for eggnog. There are many variations on the wassail recipe, and a few many need to be tested before the favorite one is found. However, wishing good heath to the guests both with the toast and the drink does seem a great way to share warmth and good cheer during the holidays.
Seasonal food and drink is a large part of the Christmas celebration. Family gatherings are important and friends are remembered throughout the season. Just as there are foods that create memories and stir up nostalgia, traditional Christmas cocktails can do the same. With a bit of planning, time, and loving care, new variations of old favorites can be created, and new traditions started that can be passed on from generation to generation.
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