Best Christmas Punch Ever

There are a lot of great things about Christmas–presents, peppermint bark, and paid vacation come to mind, but we rosy-nosed tipplers know the real holiday magic’s in the bowl…the punch bowl. The tradition of serving up Christmas punch from a big crystal bowl harkens back to the beginning of civilization, when cave people used to throw whatever interesting-looking berries they found in the woods into a celebratory crystal skull, add rum, and stomp on it for awhile. Sometimes this proved fatal, sometimes they created a fun new recipe for the family Christmas cookbook, which they had Kinko’s chisel onto stone tablets for the relatives up in North Pangaea.

kellyswensonschristmaspunchLast week, I learned an exciting new non-fatal punch recipe the modern way–I joined a group of local food writers, the lovely Bette SinclairTim Vincent of Vincent Family Cranberries, and bartender extraordinaire Kelley Swenson in the lounge at June restaurant, where Kelley handed us tumblers of his sublime Christmas cranberry punch and a copy of the recipe, which I took a picture of with my iPhone. See, things are so much easier these days!

I’m going to pass this punch recipe on, so put those funny red berries away, retrieve the bottle of rum from where Grandma hid it between the couch cushions, and rustle up some Kaffir lime leaves and Vincent Family cranberry-blueberry juice, which, if you haven’t tried it yet, is ambrosial. I drink it most mornings, mixed with sparkling water, and now, no other juice will do. You can read more about the Vincent family’s challenge to save their family farm here–it’s a great story.

WINTER CRANBERRY PUNCH

12 oz white rum (Kelley recommends Appleton White or El Dorado White)
6 oz spiced simple syrup (See Kelley’s recipe below)
8 oz fresh lemon
4 oz Vincent Family Cranberry Blueberry juice
12 Kaffir lime leaves (usually available at New Seasons or Whole Foods)
1 bag Vincent Family fresh cranberries

Combine ingredients in a large punch bowl and let marry for a minimum of 30 minutes. Ladle over fresh ice so that the cranberries and lime leaves float to the top.

And there you have it! So simple! So delicious! So safe! (Remember: do NOT substitute oleander leaves for the lime.) And a Merry Christmas to you and yours.

WINTER SPICE SYRUP
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
10 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp allspice berries
5 whole star anise

Crush spices with a mortar and pestle or the back of a large spoon. Toast dry in a frying pan until fragrant.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved, then add toasted spices and simmer, covered, on low heat for 10–20 minutes. Strain the resulting syrup and cool.