I have achieved the impossible. For this particular thing, I deserve a culinary medal of honor for going where no home cook has gone before. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have made Manischewitz palatable.
I will pause now so you can pick your jaws off the floor.
Upon divine inspiration - and by divine, I mean I read the NY Times - I came upon a recipe for a single drink made with Manischewitz, bourbon, lemon juice, and seltzer called the Drunken Pharoah. I thought to myself, hey, you can do better than that! And so I did. The Economical Epicurean was holding a holiday party, and this mysterious wine product steeped in so many years of tradition and punchlines came to me. Clocking in at under $8 for 1.5 liters of candied Concord grapey alcoholic bliss, it was certainly cheap. Instead of bourbon, I used Seagram's VO whiskey, a smooth if slightly boring libation that is my fallback whiskey of choice when price and the health of my gut are taken into equal consideration. The night before, I ventured into the local supermarket to get lemons. People, when the weather is supposed to be 1-2 feet of snow in an area where 1-2 inches can cripple a city, do not enter a supermarket. May the good lord help you if you need toilet paper, milk, eggs, or potato chips, because you ain't gittin none. But thankfully, lemons weren't high on the list of survival foods that night, and I got 4 fat, shiny, yellow specimens.
The morning of the party dawned steely grey, a thick cloud cover and swirling snow hiding the sun. I mixed up the punch, using the ratios the NY Times suggested just in much larger quantities:
2 c Manischewitz, the concord grape variety
1.5 c whiskey
0.5 c lemon juice
I tasted it. It had promise. I took a bit on ice and topped it with seltzer. Very promising indeed. Then I doubled the recipe because there were going to be 25 people there, and given the typical food and drink situation, not 2 feet of snow nor sleet nor ice nor rain would keep people from this party. When I doubled the recipe, though, I think I tweaked the ratios. I added the base amount of booze, but messed with the lemon juice. What I was going for was a sweet (but not syrupy), boozey, yet slightly tangy concoction that would benefit from chilling and fizz addition. Then I decided to add some thinly sliced lemon, and I also added a handful of fresh cranberries for decoration (note on fresh cranberries: they are resilient little buggers that you can freeze when you buy them fresh and use whenever you feel like cranberry relish, muffins, bread, etc. - there's a 3 lb bag in our freezer). Then I adjusted the ratio of Manischewitz to whiskey to suit my tastes, and I suggest you do the same! When you do that, just remember you're going to add ice and seltzer. When you chill things, perceived sweetness decreases. So if you're not sure, make yourself a mini cup of it, and see what it needs. The whole thing tasted bright and fruity, but I wanted more depth. So, I broke 3-4 cinnamon sticks in half, added in 4-6 whole cloves, and 4 whole allspice berries for some spice. It sat at room temperature on the counter for several hours, and the total volume was probably a little more than 3 quarts, pre-seltzer.
We packed it off into two nalgenes and an empty spare bottle we had, loaded them, bottles of seltzer, and the bowl into backpacks, put on our winter gear, and trudged out into the blizzard. Along the way we helped one guy free his car from a snowbank. The walk was beautiful. The snow was falling in fine cold flakes, swirling here and there, but the wind wasn't uncomfortably strong. We took pictures of some Xmas lights under the snow and admired the gobs of snow covering everything. Another nice thing about extreme beautiful weather like this is people come out to admire it. We saw more people walking around just looking at things, and there were those like us, walking instead of the usual driving. We walked maybe just over a mile to get to the party, but some of the other attendees' hikes were 2 or more. We all tramped in wearing snowpants, boots, and parkas, shedding clothing like snakes casting off old skin, and making a beeline for the food and drink.
The punchbowl was drained. Literally. Someone, I forget who, actually picked it up and poured the dregs, little bits of spices, lemon pulp, and all, into their glass. I can think of no better praise. We're still stuck on a name, although Inquisition Punch (bc, you know, sangria w/ Manischewitz?) has a good ring to it. The Hebrew Hammer or The Hebrews Get Hammered or Krunk Jewce were also in the running.