“Inaugurations are jolly events,” Judith Martin wrote in “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.” But they are not without their hassles, including “messy weather” and “spectator events you can’t see.” But traditionally, the most chaotic challenge at inaugural festivities has been the quest to get a cocktail. Drinks are “acquired after massive physical exertion only to be spilled on one’s best clothes.” Which is why Miss Manners suggests that inaugurations have less in common with coronations than they do with football weekends.
Come this evening, there will be plenty of drinking opportunities. The day promises to be remarkably boozy, but probably not quite the bash seen after Andrew Jackson’s inauguration, when a parched mob followed him back into the White House.
“A monstrous crowd of people is in the city,” Daniel Webster wrote his sister-in-law from Washington on Inauguration Day, 1829. “I never saw any thing like it before. Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson; and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger.” The president-elect struggled to get to the Capitol, what with the throngs surrounding his lodgings, Gadsby’s Tavern. After the oath and his address, the old general climbed on his horse and headed for the White House. The multitude went with him. As one witness told it, “The President was literally pursued by a motley concourse of people, riding, running helter-skelter, striving who should first gain admittance into the executive mansion, where it was understood that refreshments were to be distributed.”
The unruly bunch pushed into the White House, clods standing on the silk-upholstered furniture in muddy boots to get a glimpse of the new president (who was up against a wall, busy trying not to be crushed by his well-wishers). “The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appalled. “I was glad to escape from the scene as soon as possible.” But the madness reached its zenith (or nadir) when the stewards finally delivered the refreshments, buckets full of Orange Punch. The crowd lunged for the pails, overturning furniture, smashing the glassware, and — perhaps worst of all — spilling the punch itself. Luckily, barrels and barrels of the stuff had been prepared, and quick-thinking waiters lugged the remaining punch out onto the White House lawn, enticing Jackson’s raucous admirers to take the party outside.
I scoured 19th century cookbooks for Orange Punch recipes, and found the instructions to be fairly consistent: make a sugar syrup and infuse it with orange peel; use it to sweeten a mix of orange juice, lemon juice, rum, and brandy. Some also added a taste of orange curaçao (which tasted to me like orangey overkill) or maraschino liqueur. As specified, the drink isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything I would trample White House furniture to get at. And so I did a little tweaking here and there. To get away from the relentless citrus one-note I flavored the sugar syrup not only with orange peel, but also with mulling spices (cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, and whole cloves). The punch was also a bit too heavy and needed to be brightened, which was easily accomplished with the judicious addition of soda water. And to counteract the drink’s tendency toward over-sweetness, I added a dash of Angostura bitters to each glass.
I’ve given the recipe in proportions, easy to make by the bucketful if you’ve got a mob of your own to serve inauguration day.
Inaugural Orange Punch
3 parts fresh orange juice
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part mulled orange syrup (see below)
1 part dark rum
1 part cognac
2 parts soda water
Combine in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice, and give each glass a dash of Angostura bitters.
Mulled Orange Syrup
Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the peel from an orange and mulling spices (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.