Dec 29

Packing a Party Punch

Miss Charing swallowed another mouthful of punch. A gentle glow was spreading through her veins, dispelling the melancholy which had possessed her. It would have been too much to have said that she was restored to happiness, but she no longer despaired. –Georgette Heyer, Cotillion

Who doesn’t remember, as a child, sneaking forbidden sips of punch at a festive family gathering? Oh! the sweetness of it all; the wonderful alcoholic glow—without the youthful agonies of trying to down an undiluted glass of ordinary rum or vodka.

William Hogarth, A Midnight Modern Conversation

Revelers with a bowl of punch. Detail from A Midnight Modern Conversation by William Hogarth, 1733

Ever since the fruity alcoholic concoction was first introduced to England from India some 400 years ago, it has been a popular item on the beverage menu at parties and holiday festivities. Possibly the first recorded recipe for punch was in 1599, when Sir Edward Kennel, commander in chief of the British Royal Navy, offered his ships’ companies a punch—so named for the Hindu word panch, which according James Trager’s The Food Chronology means “five,” denoting the five basic ingredients of this wonderful concoction: spirits, sugar, citrus juice, water, and aromatic flavorings.

Trager describes Sir Kennel’s punch recipe as consisting of “80 casks of brandy, 9 of water, 80 pints of lemon juice, 25,000 limes, 1,300 pounds of Lisbon sugar, 5 pounds of nutmegs, 300 biscuits, and a cask of Malaga, ‘all brewed in a marble basin and served to 6,000 guests by ships’ boys (who serve 15-minute shifts to avoid getting drunk from the fumes) sailing the punch in a rosewood boat.’ ”

George Washington

George Washington: used rum punch to garner votes. Portrait by Rembrandt Peale, De Young Museum (ca. 1850)

By 1759, Trager writes, upper-class Britons were consuming their spirits most often in the form of a punch or hot toddy. The drink also found favor in the American colonies, where American’s future first president, George Washington, dispersed 50 gallons of rum punch—along with other alcoholic largess—while campaigning for election to the Virginia House of Burgesses from Fairfax County in 1757.

Little more than half a century later, Jane Austen gave a nod to punch as a celebratory drink in Pride and Prejudice when Mrs. Bennet told her housekeeper: “My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at her wedding.”

My memories of making punch in the silver-rimmed family punch bowl consist of mixing various frozen citrus juices with several other off-the-shelf beverages and garnishing it with floating orange slices. It did not always contain alcohol, but it always contained cranberry juice. To serve it, we used a fluted, silver-plated punch ladle similar to the one shown in an early episode of the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

The punch that Hill and her fellow domestics enjoyed some 200 years ago was much more complicated to make and most likely served in a large porcelain bowl rather than glass or silver. “In preparing this favourite liquor, it is impossible to take too much pains in the process of mixing, that all the different articles may be thoroughly incorporated together,” Regency-era home economist Mary Eaton wrote in 1823 in The Cook and Housekeeper’s Complete and Universal Dictionary. Proper garnishment would have required the careful spiraling of several orange peels, which would be draped artistically over the sides of the bowl.

Punch bowl

Chinese Export Porcelain Punch Bowl, c. 1765, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, N.Y.

Author Georgette Heyer mentions punch several times in her novels set in the British Regency. In The Foundling, the young Duke of Sale’s cousins spontaneously brew up a bowl of punch in cousin Gideon’s London bachelor quarters. “Rum! Lemons! Kettle!” Gideon calls to his manservant, while cousin Matthew seizes a lemon and chants the well-known rhyme for Bajan Rum Punch:One sour, Two sweet; Four strong, And eight weak!”

And so, if you are now been inspired to brew up your own bowl of punch for a cold winter’s day, here are several recipes to guide you, alcoholic and otherwise:

Cranberry Punch (non-alcoholic)

1 12-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate
6 pints cranberry juice cocktail
1 No. 2 can (2-1/2 cups) pineapple juice
2 quarters ginger ale

Add water to frozen concentrates as specified on the cans. Mix well with cranberry and pineapple juice. Just before serving, add ginger ale.

Cranberry Slush (alcoholic, but a true chiller)

1 quart cranberry juice
1 large can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 large can frozen orange juice concentrate
2 cans water
1 pint vodka

Place all ingredients in a covered plastic container large enough to allow for expansion of ingredients when they freeze. Mix well and place in freezer for at least 24 hours. Remove 2 hours before serving time. Contents will be in crystalized form. Blenderize before serving, or serve as is.

Hot Mulled Cider

1-1/2 quarts sweet cider
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2  tsp. ground allspice
2 sticks cinnamon
2 tsp. whole cloves
1/2 cup rum

Place all ingredients together in pan and heat, but do not boil. Strain and serve hot in mugs.

Regency-Era Punch Recipes

Lady Judith Cohen Montefiore, in The Jewish Manual (1846), provides another relatively easy recipe for making rum or whiskey punch:

TO MAKE PUNCH. To make one quart, provide two fine fresh lemons, and rub off the outer peel upon a few lumps of sugar; put the sugar into a bowl with four ounces of powdered sugar, upon which press the juice of the lemons, and pour over one pint and a half of very hot water that has not boiled, then add a quarter of a pint of rum, and the same quantity of brandy; stir well together and strain it, and let it stand a few minutes before it is drank. Whiskey punch is made after the same method; the juice and thin peel of a Seville orange add variety of flavor to punch, particularly of whiskey punch.

If you are looking for something on a much grander scale, here is Mary Eaton’s punch recipe in its entirety:

PUNCH. In preparing this favourite liquor, it is impossible to take too much pains in the process of mixing, that all the different articles may be thoroughly incorporated together. Take then two large fresh lemons with rough skins, quite ripe, and some lumps of double-refined sugar. Rub the sugar over the lemons, till it has absorbed all the yellow part of the rinds. Put these lumps into a bowl, and as much more as the juice of the lemons may be supposed to require: no certain weight or quantity can be mentioned, as the acidity of a lemon cannot be known till tried, and therefore this must be determined by the taste. Then squeeze the lemon juice upon the sugar, and with a bruiser press the sugar and the juice particularly well together, for a great deal of the richness and fine flavour of the punch depends on this rubbing and mixing being thoroughly performed. Having well incorporated the juice and the sugar, mix it up with boiling soft water, and let it stand a little to cool. When this mixture, which is now called the sherbet, is made of a pleasant flavour, take equal quantities of rum and brandy and put into it, mixing the whole well together. The quantity of liquor must be according to taste: two good lemons are generally enough to make four quarts of punch, including a quart of liquor, with half a pound of sugar: but this depends much on taste, and on the strength of the spirit. As the pulp of the lemon is disagreeable to some persons, the sherbet may be strained before the liquor is put in. Some strain the lemon before they put it to the sugar, which is improper; as when the pulp and sugar are well mixed together, it adds much to the richness of the punch. When only rum is used, about half a pint of porter will soften the punch; and even when both rum and brandy are used, the porter gives a richness, and also a very pleasant flavour. A shorter way is to keep ready prepared a quarter of an ounce of citric or crystallized lemon acid, pounded with a few drops of the essence of lemon peel, gradually mixed with a pint of clarified syrup or capillaire. Brandy or rum flavoured with this mixture, will produce good punch in a minute.

Mrs. Eaton also gives a recipe for punch royal, whose lengthy preparation is certainly fit for a king. I cannot vouch, however, for the taste of the finished product.

PUNCH ROYAL. Take thirty Seville oranges and thirty lemons quite sound, pare them very thin, and put the parings into an earthen pan, with as much rum or brandy as will cover them. Take ten gallons of water, and twelve pounds of lump sugar, and boil them. When nearly cold, put in the whites of thirty eggs well beaten, stir it and boil it a quarter of an hour, then strain it through a hair sieve into an earthen pan, and let it stand till the next day. Then put it into a cask, strain the spirit from the parings, and add as much more as will make it up five gallons. Put it into the cask with five quarts of Seville orange juice, and three quarts of lemon juice. Stir it all together with a cleft stick, and repeat the same once a day for three successive days; then stop it down close, and in six weeks it will be fit to drink.