Monday, December 04, 2006

A Fighting Punch.

Today, December 4th …

Today we have another story which leads us to a recipe for Punch. A story about fighting men too, which makes it particularly interesting from a linguistic angle – they both “pack a punch”, right? Let us see.

Today is a special day for artillery men because it is St Barbara’s day. If we are to understand how a saintly, beautiful and virginal young girl has become associated with fighting men and alcoholic liquor, we must know the story-legend about her. Supposedly, some time in the third century AD she was imprisoned in a tower by her father for refusing to renounce her faith. She escaped, but her father caught her and beheaded her whereupon he was struck by lightning. Hence her association with those who deal with explosions, fire, and death from the sky (and hat-makers too, for reasons which are not immediately obvious to me).

The word ‘punch’ meaning the drink is often explained as coming from the word ‘panch’, meaning ‘five’ in several Indian languages, because it has five ingredients - alcohol, water, sweet (sugar), sour (usually lemon juice), and spice (or ‘bitter’). The OED fairly convincingly argues that this origin is ‘improbable’ for reasons of pronunciation as well as the fact that “the number of ingredients does not seem to have been at any time so fixed as to give origin to a name”. The word ‘punch’ referring to striking a blow seems to come from ‘pounce’ meaning a prick or sting (or the talon of a bird), but the etymology of this word is itself ‘obscure’. The same origin is given for ‘puncheon’, meaning a cask for liquids, so perhaps ‘punch’ (the drink) comes from “a shortening of puncheon, as that to which sailors would look for their allowance of liquor.” So, although the OED hints that “a connection of sense has not been found” between the various uses of the word, there is an eminently sensible one here. I vote for ‘punch the drink’ from ‘puncheon the container for drink’.

Fighting men love to drink. They love ceremony and tradition. They surely need a sense of humour. These all came together during the American Civil War with the invention of the following special recipe:

St Barbara’s Artillery Punch.

Some of previous year's punch – to represent Tradition

Red fruit drink - to represent Artillery Color
Dark Red Wine - to represent Bloodshed
Dark Rum - to represent Coming of the Storm
Golden Rum - to represent Hope of Victory
Peach Brandy - to represent "Procurement" From Officer's Stores
Molasses - to represent Axle Grease
Spring Water - to represent Importance of Fresh Water
Bourbon - to represent the Southern Gentleman's drink
Mixture of Lemon Juice and Brown Sugar - Squeezings from the Sponge
Lime Juice and Sliced Fruits - To Ward Off Scurvy
Dark Apple Cider - to represent Cleaning Water From the Guns
Rose Petals - to represent Sweethearts
Hardtack, Coffee, and Corn - Rations of the Common Soldier
Brown Sugar Mixed with Water - to represent Mud From the Battlefields
Black Licorice Cake Decoration - to represent Gun Powder
Horseshoe - Honors the Horses
Chocolate-covered Cherries - to represent Cannister Shot
Sock with Powdered Sugar - to represent Dust from Marching

Stir with your Saber.

Note the inclusion of cherries. This is particularly apt (although I don’t know if this was intentional on the part of those thirsty fighting men). St Barbara is often associated with cherries, as a variation of the story says that she tended a cherry tree outside her prison window. In some parts of Europe there was a tradition of cutting a small branch of a cherry tree on this day and bringing it inside the house to be tended carefully – many blossoms meaning much luck. Even better, in Germany it is a day to eat or bake a fruit bread called Kletzenbrot.

It wouldn’t do any harm to have a Black Forest Cake either, I suppose.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Not your usual Parisian fare.

On this Topic …

Several previous stories have featured recipes for punch:

Victoria Punch
Milk Punch
Roman Punch

St Cecilia Punch

Quotation for the Day …

A true gastronome should always be ready to eat, just as a soldier should always be ready to fight. Charles Monselet, gastronome (1825-1888)

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