The sun gently creeps over the recently harvested cotton fields of the North Alabama landscape. We pull onto a muddy road and make our way to a remote nook where fellow farmers and landowners are anxiously congregating. Polite conversations suddenly halt as the sound of horse hooves hitting the ground and dogs howling steal our attention. We race to the cleared field to observe this historic Southern ritual of the blessing of the hounds. Spirited speckled hounds with their ivory and chocolate colored coats happily lead the way to the alcove while still residing close to poised riders with crimson coats and deeply black helmets.
It is as if I stepped back in time. A time when tradition was not only revered but cherished, when etiquette reigned above victory, and a decoration on an outfit spoke volumes about a person. A last name could be traced back generations in the mind of the person you are shaking hands with for the first time. It’s a time I’ll never truly know, but on this glorious morning, I am allowed to be part of its past just by being present.
The horses and hounds gather in a horseshoe shape as they reach the alcove. Younger riders in black jackets remain in the back of the pack as the leaders in red coats are situated toward the front. Antique silver goblets, which are gracefully balancing on sparkling silver trays, are passed to each of the riders. Riders laugh and converse with one another as they enjoy their punch. The hounds stay close to the Master, who remains attentive in the front of the pack. The Master dons a bright red coat, a brass bugle and is positioned atop a beautiful snow-white horse with a braided mane.
A cheerful atmosphere quickly alters to pure reverence as the priest in his billowing white and purple robes walks to the middle of the clearing and begins to bless every rider, horse and hound that is to be part of the hunt. After the blessing, there is a brief silence, and then a sound from the bugle. They are off! Barking and galloping fills the little alcove once again, and the riders vanish around the clearing and into the woods.
With the sound of the hunt well in the distance, we begin to make our way back to our vehicles. Simultaneously, we begin checking our boots before getting into the car. A sweet man dressed in tan tartan top to toe laughed at us and said in a thick Welsh accent, “ If you find anything on the bottom of your boots, it means you’ll find luck!” I sat in the car for a moment and realized indeed, I was quite blessed!
Makes 1 Cocktail
Note: This is a cocktail I imagine riders sipping as they relax on their horses before a morning hunt. This recipe is inspired by Brennan’s Milk Punch recipe in New Orleans. It is a straightforward recipe of this classic Southern cocktail.
To make simple syrup, stir together equal amounts of recently boiled water and granulated sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2 ounces brandy or bourbon
4 ounces half & half or milk
1 ounce simple syrup (See Note)
¼ ounce vanilla extract
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
Combine brandy, half & half, simple syrup and vanilla extract in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until frothy, and pour over a glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with grated nutmeg. Enjoy!