Thanksgiving, 2011 (Actually celebrated the day after for logistical reasons.)
I’ve never felt the urge to operate a still, but after reading Philip Hone’s diary entry of January 3, 1837, the temptation became irresistible. Hone, a city father and faithful keeper of a nightly journal, writes about making a stop on the New Year’s circuit at the Mayor’s house where knickerbockers could always count on taking a “morsel of pound cake” and single glass of “cherry bounce.” The bounce turns out to be a liquor dating back to Colonial era, possibly of Dutch origin. Martha Washington (whose tenure as First Lady began in New York City) kept a “pocket diary” with her personal recipe for the cordial that fueled a revolution.
“Extract the Juice of 20 pounds of well ripend Morrella Cherrys Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with White Sugar to your taste—To 5 Gallons of this mixture add one ounce of Spice Such as Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmegs of each an Equal quantity Slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of Cherry kernels that have been gently broken in a mortar—After the liquor has fermented let it Stand Close-Stoped for a month or Six weeks—then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.”
In order to serve it at New Year’s, the batch had best be in the works for a month, however a shorter fermentation time will work.
I shared this with my sister, Joanie, who caught the fever. We decided that we would start a batch in September and break it out at our Thanksgiving dinner at the family manse in St. Joseph, Missouri. (A daring move since the elders in our family are fanatic teetotalers.) We figured that three months would produce a really potent brew.
Joanie found a more streamlined recipe (but substituted rum for the prescribed bourbon.)
She ended up with about a quart in a carafe which she stored in a cool place under her kitchen sink. You have to visit it once a day to upend it gently. Not shaken, not stirred. (See photo taken about approximately three weeks.)
At Thanksgiving I was charged with taking the first sip. (The elders abstained.) It was, uhhh, a little rummy, but yummy. A single cherry would be great atop a scoop of vanilla sorbet. In a glass? A short shot will do. I’m sure Martha sent her guests home very happy.