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Milk Punch, A Soothing Wake Me Up

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Helen sips milk punch

Helen reporting.
Martinique on Magazine Street in New Orleans makes a powerful wake-me-up drink—Milk Punch. This mix of milk, vanilla, bourbon or brandy—your choice—with a sprinkling of nutmeg is delicious.

It’s the very same intoxicating beverage heroine Renee Desselle enjoys at the Collins Garden Party in The Willing Widow. The competition for William’s attention is fierce and Renee seeks solace in the punch bowl.

“As she sipped a glass of milk punch—a powerful mix of brandy, sugar, whipped milk and nutmeg—Renee nursed her resentment of these matrons who plotted their daughters’ futures. Her own mother, having died three years before her marriage, had played no part in advising her.”

Later, when she spots William deep in conversation with Agnes O’Hara, “Renee returned to the punch bowl, hurt and confused.”

Not long after, “‘Let’s have a cup of punch, Madame Voison,’ Renee whispered, grasping the older lady’s arm.”

By the time the supper buffet begins, she feels the effects: “Renee had enjoyed quite a few glasses of milk punch and now a little light-headed, she ambled down the line and allowed the server to give her a small chicken breast, a slice of ham and a helping of green beans.”

After my taste of milk punch at Martinique, I searched my old recipe books for the means to make it myself.

The Williamsburg Art of Cookery printed in 1742 lists a milk punch that combines water, milk, brandy, lemon juice and sugar to taste. What more is needed?

The directions continue. After stirring, the cook is to “run it through a flannel bag till ‘tis very fine; then bottle it; it will keep a fortnight or more.”

I looked through Creole Cookery (1885), Lafcadio Hearn’s Creole Cook Book (1885) and The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (1901), but  failed to find a recipe. Could it be the drink was so common everybody knew how to make it? Today, it’s on the menu in many restaurants and served often in private homes.

The Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook, (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1984) notes that milk punch is an American drink, particularly soothing for the morning after. Commander’s recipe doesn’t require a flannel bag, so try this for brunch, morning after or not.

For one drink:

1 ½ ounces bourbon or brandy
½ ounce vanilla extract
½ ounce Simple Syrup*
1 ounce half-and-half
2 ounces milk
Freshly grated nutmeg

Step by Step:
1) Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add bourbon or brandy, vanilla extract, simple syrup, half-and-half and milk.
2) Shake vigorously and strain into a 9-ounce old-fashioned glass.
3) Top with nutmeg.
*Simple Syrup
Combine 1 cup water, 2 cups sugar; bring to boil, then simmer 5 minutes. Cool and store in covered jar in refrigerator.