For the past several years we have walked down our dirt road about one hundred yards in the dark of Christmas Eve for a traditional feast. Sometimes it is snowing, other times it has rained, and often it is very, very cold. This Christmas Eve, a fog rolled in, making the air damp and rather bone chilling chasing up the sleeves of our coats and underneath our Christmas finery. We came with a basket of gifts and a large bowl of freshly cut greens from the green house—jewel-toned radicchio, frisee, and escarole.
To start there was pink champage and a smoked salmon from New Foundland brought by our host Edie’s father. It was hearty and smokey while being delicate and silky at the same time. A half wheel of a runny French cheese went well with the clean scrub of the champagne. Our other host, Edie’s husband Robert, went all out on a buffet of traditional dishes: a roast local turkey, brussel sprouts, fat beets roasted with ginger, stuffing made with sausage produced right down the road, a gratin of potatoes, creamed spinach, and the salad with the slightly bitter greens to finish.
We drank a jewel-toned wine with the meal, a Barbera d’Alba made by a small producer in the Piemonte with the last name of Correggio. It glimmered true claret in the decanter and was cozy and slightly inky to drink. At the restaurant, I serve another of the same gentleman’s wines, a rarity of still Bracchetto which smells more like a handful of roses and violets. Dessert was peppermint ice cream dressed in warm chocolate sauce.
In the tradition of a holiday, and the tradition of bringing our two families together, and the tradition of a classic meal we sat around the lace-covered table set with Edie’s family china and glassware (the old Venetian goblets painted lightly with gold that I covet so!) talking of family histories, exams at school, plans for anniversaries, exchanging books we’d recently read, and bringing out the wine Atlas to follow a route on the Massif Centrale in France. Somehow, lengthy celebratory meals always end up needing a map.
Then, Edie with a deft sleight of hand, produced a bottle of rum to finish our meal. And not just any rum. This was a family rum. A famous rum belonging to Edie’s father and dated 1875. Medford Rum, which had belonged to the family all those years ago when Gen. George L. Batchelder inherited it. A stash of which had just been found while clearing out someone’s old cellar. The bottle was clear and portly, we suspected the original, but the label had been replaced at some point along the line as you could see the remnants of glue dried on the surface. This did nothing to detract from the deep caramel hue of the liqueur. Caleb did the honors of opening the bottle with the cork breaking along the way, and a little sigh escaped went the last bit of plug was removed as if the spirit in “spirit” has released out into the evening.
Edie poured a dram into one of the Venetian goblets and starting with Edgar, we passed around the glass to taste this particular history until the glass was finished. I have never tasted anything so venerable and so old. Who knew a rum well over a hundred years old would taste and smell so powerfully and elegantly of molasses, orange peel, smoked hickory, vanilla, and clove? When you held up a fresh orange studded with cloves plucked from the table decorations, then smelled the rum, the orange and the clove bloomed into the clarity of olfactory vision. Edgar’s lady friend suggested we bottled the rest into little vials of perfume, and she was right, in smelling and tasting such a liquid gem, one can experience how hair-line the boundary is between perfume and drink.
Medford Rum has a long and famous history dating back to Paul Revere and his fatefull visit to his favorite tavern The Green Dragon, and was the product of a seafaring family that delighted in the treasures of the West Indies and the China Seas. The talk winds down to the magic of tasting something made by people who knew people during our country’s own revolution, of thinking about all the hands that went into producing something so sublime, and while we can’t imagine those particular faces or names or personal histories, one feels compelled to thank and honor them anyway.
We walk home wrapped back up into our coats and already reminiscing about the rum, the meal, and the good company. The fog blankets our meadows, and mists over a quarter moon looking like the view from the prow of pirate’s ship.