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Laurie White, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Laurie White, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What’s the Right Way to Make a Milk Punch?

Laurie White, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Laurie White, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Like the old fashioned, the milk punch has evolved into two distinctive versions over the past few centuries. Though they share some ingredients—liquor, sweetener, dairy, and vanilla among them—the methods used to make each cocktail are quite different. Even more striking is how these different preparations result in drastically different taste and appearance.

The more modern version is an easily recognizable New Orleans brunch staple. The easiest way to describe it is as an egg-less eggnog. It’s a heavy, rich, single-serve cocktail—just what the doctor would order after a night out on Bourbon Street. This version is designed to be enjoyed immediately while cold; it will quickly go bad if left in the fridge.

In contrast, the older milk punch recipe is clear—when it’s made right. Despite its appearance, the texture and flavor maintain the silkiness and richness of dairy without the weight. Centuries ago, this punch would have been made in large batches for groups of drinkers to enjoy. 

Clarification also served a more mundane purpose: preventing spoilage. In the days before refrigeration, bartenders and cooks alike had to get creative to keep fruits, vegetables, and milk from going bad. Clarification removes many of the perishable compounds in the milk, and the resulting cocktail can be aged for months or years without turning.

It also improved the taste of the liquor, according to Eamon Rockey, general manager of the New York City restaurant Betony. Rockey spoke at a seminar about milk punch at Tales of the Cocktail, an industry event held in New Orleans in July. “The spirits of today are much more refined than what was available a couple centuries ago,” he says. Clarification would remove some of the chemical compounds that made the spirit taste less than wonderful, rendering it smoother and much more drinkable.

TECHNIQUE, TECHNIQUE, TECHNIQUE

How, exactly, bartenders clarified their milk punch several centuries ago is a matter of debate. “Descriptions of the exact [clarification] technique vary,” Rockey said. According to cocktail historian David Wondrich in Punch!, milk was added to punch and allowed to curdle. Its addition makes “a disgusting mess that when strained out leaves a Punch that is not only clear but also exceptionally smooth and creamy-tasting without actually being creamy,” Wondrich wrote

The story of its birth some 300 years ago is also lively. "It's attributed to a promiscuous playwright named Aphra Behn," Rockey said. "Though it’s unclear whether it’s true.” Wondrich is inclined to give Behn credit, especially because she was a lover of punch in all forms, if her plays are any indication.

As with most things, milk punch has fallen in and out of favor throughout the centuries. Its status as a rather complicated beverage certainly didn’t help. Despite its lack of consistent popularity, it makes occasional appearances in the historical record. The most interesting is a recipe that Benjamin Franklin writes in a letter to friend and colleague James Bowdoin with the introduction “Herewith you have the Receipt you desired.” 

From there, the drink largely disappears until it is reimagined as the more modern New Orleans classic. Recently, however, the classically clarified punch has been making a comeback on cocktail menus around the country (including Betony). Long live the milk punch. 

HIT THE LAB

Milk Punch (traditional)
Modified from Punch! 

8 lemons
1 gallon of brandy or mild rum
1 gallon of water
2 pounds of raw sugar
2 quarts of whole milk (raw if available)
2 nutmegs

Using a fine vegetable peeler, peel the lemons, and set the fruits aside. Soak the peels in the brandy for 24 hours and add the water and sugar. Squeeze the eight lemons into the brandy mixture. Bring the milk to a boil. Add the milk to the brandy mixture. Strain gradually through a tightly woven cloth, replacing the cloth when too many milk solids accumulate. Bottle and refrigerate until solids precipitate in the bottom. Siphon off the clear liquid, rebottle, and store. 

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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