The labors depicted for December often involve slaughtering the hogs that were so dutifully brought out into the woods to feast on acorns during November. There’s boar hunting, too. Meat, after all, was central to these large holiday meals. There are also some examples that show the giving of gifts to the king or to local gentry. This may seem a bit lopsided (it was — it was feudalism!), but there were other traditions that involved noblemen distributing their riches in the form of food, drink, or money to the people in their area. Time off, too, would have been a huge treat to those who had been working the land for the past nine months. All of these traditions fit right in with our Keap themes this month — giving, communing, and celebrating — be it in preparing to gather and celebrate or in the giving of gifts within the community.
Stained glass window “December,” 15th century, England. Source
This month’s cocktail, Festum, is a riff on a classic template: the Manhattan. In these darkest days of the year, there’s nothing quite so comforting as a stirred, spirit-forward drink, and all the better if it incorporates traditional holiday flavors. Cognac makes for a silky-smooth base, which is bolstered by herbal sweet vermouth. Amaro stands in for bitters and can lend a variety of notes depending on the brand and style, from pine to spices to kola nut. A small measure of crème de cacao and an orange twist provide familiar flavors of the season.
It’s been such a pleasure writing to you about the Labors of the Month and mixing up some great drinks with you this year. A fitting end, I think, is the following excerpt from a fifteenth-century poem about the Labors:
January – By this fire I warm my hands,
February – And with my spade I delve my lands.
March – Here I set my things to spring,
April – And here I hear the birds sing.
May – I am light as a bird on bough,
June – And I weed my corn well enow.
July – With my scythe my mead I mow,
August – And here I shear my corn full low.
September – With my flail I earn my bread,
October – And here I sow my wheat so red.
November – At Martinmas I kill my swine,
December – And at Christmas I drink red wine.
Wishing you a beautiful holiday season full of festivities, and a very happy new year.
A Manhattan riff with Cognac, Italian (“sweet”) vermouth, crème de cacao, and amaro in place of traditional bitters, garnished with an orange twist; this one is just as at home before a meal as it is after
- 1 ½ oz. Cognac
- ¾ oz. sweet vermouth
- ½ oz. amaro
- 1 teaspoon crème de cacao
- Orange twist, for garnish
Combine all in a mixing glass and fill three-quarters full with ice. Stir for 20 seconds. Strain into a Nick and Nora glass or coupe. Cut a piece of orange peel (about 3”x1”) using a vegetable peeler. Express the oils from the peel onto the surface of the drink. Rub oily side of peel around the lip of the glass, then twist into a spiral and place in drink, with one end hanging over the side of the glass.