Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Dec 27, 2009
12:13 PM
Small Dishes

An Old Start to a New Year

An Old Start to a New Year

It’s difficult to think about New Year’s without champagne.  There was a time, though, when punch was the drink of choice for most celebrations.  Champagne wasn’t as readily available or as affordable as it is today—at least in this country.  In the U.S., there is a much older tradition of making whiskey—whether legally or illegally.  No matter the quality or proof, diluted with fruit juice and sugar it became very palatable.

 The origin of punch goes back to India, and from there, came to England in the early 17th Century.  Originally it contained no booze but was tea-based.  Obviously it didn’t take long for someone to figure out how to give it a little more punch. In the guise of the Wassail bowl, it become part of the British Christmas tradition and was exported to the colonies.


Supposedly, Madison’s first New Year’s Eve party was hosted by the city’s founding mother and father, Roseline and Eben Peck, at their tavern (100 block of South Butler Street).  By the turn of the last century, the place to be on New Year’s Day was at the home of “Flat Wheel” Montgomery and his wife, Alice (104 East Gilman Street).  The draw was the punch (recipe below).


My own introduction to punch—making not drinking—was when I was in second grade.  My parents and some friends threw an annual party and the centerpiece was Artillery Punch. I think the origin of its name is obvious.  It was concocted in a large washtub down in the basement.  Standing on a stool, I got to help stir in the many ingredients.  Unfortunately (for my parents), I took the recipe (below) to school for Show-and-Tell—much to the shock of my teetotaler teacher. 


Nostalgia always runs rampant this time of year, but I think I’ll go out and buy some nonvintage champagne.



Old Madison New Year’s Punch


40 lemons, thinly sliced and seeded

3½ gallons whiskey

1½ gallons brandy

2 ounces ground cloves

1 ounce ground mace

½ once ground nutmeg

½ ounce ground cinnamon

1 gallon sherry

1 gallon black currant wine

2 quarts of sweet grape juice

2 bottles chilled champagne



Sliced oranges


Place the lemon slices on platters in 3 layers and let stand for 6 to 8 hours.  Mix the whiskey and brandy together in a large kettle. Simmer over a slow fire for 1 hour. Throw in the lemon slices and let them stand for five minutes. Then skim off the lemons and set them aside until serving time. Put the ground spices in a linen bag and add to the pot; simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the spices.  Add the sherry and black current wine and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add grape juice and cool. Serve in a punch bowl over ice, adding champagne, reserved lemons and some sliced oranges.


Serves a lot.



1954 Artillery Punch


6 cups strong black tea

1 liter bourbon

1 750-ml bottle cabernet sauvignon

3 cups Jamaican rum

1½ cups gin

1½ cups brandy

3 ounces Benedictine

3 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ cup grenadine


Mix all the ingredients and let stand 2 hours or more to mellow.  Pour over a block of ice in a large punch bowl.


Serves 12.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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