DRINK } A Citrus Spin On My Favorite Punch

Plenty of winter citrus brightens up a traditional punch.
Photo by Sara Williams

Punch is a no-brainer when you're entertaining a big group. Mix it ahead to free up your hands for other tasks — doling out hugs to arriving guests, finishing up food prep, or keeping your feisty little dog from attacking friends. Oh, that's just at my house?

One of my go-to recipes is St. Cecilia Society Punch. I first made it for a family gathering at the beach back in 2009, and tipsy relatives declared it a keeper.

For a Valentine's Day party this year, I mixed up the recipe a bit by adding lots of fresh winter citrus — meyer lemons, kumquats and blood oranges. I left out the customary pineapple, which gives it a tropical flair (not that there's anything wrong with channeling the tropics in February).

I recommend spooning a few kumquats into each glass. They're a deliciously tart little booze-soaked bonus.

St. Cecilia Society Punch
adapted for winter from Fine Cooking

serves 12-14

3 meyer lemons, thinly sliced into rounds
1 1/2 cups brandy
1 cup granulated sugar
2 black tea bags
2 tablespoons sliced ginger
1 1/2 cups dark rum, such as Gosling’s
2 cups of kumquats, halved
2 blood oranges, sliced into rounds
2 bottles chilled dry sparkling wine
1-2 750 ml bottles sparkling water, chilled

* For chilling the punch, make an ice block by freezing water in a medium-sized bowl or container a day before. (That's the big thing floating in the photo above.)

Put the lemon slices in a large bowl, pour the brandy over them and chill for a few hours or overnight.

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir just until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags and ginger slices, and steep for 4 minutes. Remove tea bags and strain out ginger. Set syrup aside to cool.

At least 3 hours and up to 6 hours before serving, combine the lemons, brandy, syrup, rum, kumquats and blood oranges in a large pitcher or bowl. Chill.

Just before serving, pour the punch into a large punch bowl with a block of ice. Add the sparkling wine and sparkling water (as much as you'd like to dilute the punch), and stir. Serve with a few pieces of fruit in each glass.