Foods, like cooking equipment, have their seasons and cycles of popularity. They come and go, like copper pots, fondue pots and mouse rings and molds. This holiday season, the conviviality of a cut-glass bowl filled with sparkling punch, a ladle and matching cups hooked onto the side of the bowl felt like a good idea to us.
For some reason, punch has fallen out of favor, or perhaps, become the purview of the new mixologists with their seasonal cocktails. In any case, we don’t know many people serving it anymore. Yet punch can be creative, classic, extravagant or a plain and simple way to serve a crowd a bulk cocktail with a bit of fruit, sugar and spice.
We’re no punch experts, but it seems to us just by using our winter citrus and the last of the mint and lemon verbena in the garden, some nice punches might be dreamed up. Meyer lemon, navel and blood oranges and Bearss lime all make good punch ingredients, along with the last of fall’s pomegranates. Herbs and ginger can be added to sugar and water for flavorful simple syrups.
Of course, you can never go wrong with classic punch recipes. Georgeanne loves the old classic Fish House Punch, consisting of lemon juice, rum, peach liqueur, brandy, sugar, bitters and carbonated or plain water. She first became aware of it as a child when her parents served it at a New Year’s party and she and her brother sneaked a secret taste. It was years before she had it again, this time at a French wedding!
Ann, with a punch memory mostly of cut-glass bowls filled with orange juice, ginger ale and scoops of rainbow sherbet served by her Granny at birthday parties, searched for cookbooks for classic punch recipes. Only her collection of Southern cookbooks had chapters on beverages.
Long a tradition at cotillions, receptions and a part of holidays, both summer and winter, serving punch dates back to before the Civil War with names like Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch and the Original Cape Fear Punch. Southerners have never let go of their traditions of hospitality, entertaining and the recipes of years gone by.
Perhaps in California, we abandoned punch for our great wine; or, perhaps we never developed deeply enough the tradition to maintain it. In his 2010 book, “Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl,” cocktail historian David Wondrich covers the history of distillation and includes punch as an ancient form of drink. Others attribute the discovery more recently to British sailors discovering punch fully formed in India in the 16th century. Authors JB & Pink Squirrel trace its way to the New World to government documents as early as 1682, when it was an essential beverage at any sophisticated social affair.
For us, punch is a reminder of a more simple time with wedding-gifted cut-glass punch bowls sitting atop a lace tablecloth on a dining room table for the inevitable celebratory occasion — weddings, graduations, showers and anniversaries — most often held at grandmother’s house. We’ve each had several punch bowls in our day, but because we had long ago given them away in a moment of cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, we went hunting recently for the perfect big bowl.
Area thrift stores seemed a good place to find a formerly loved bowl and we found varying styles. Since the hunt is sometimes as a fun as the find, neither of us has yet found the perfect set. A search online shows punch bowls in the vintage cut-glass style with requisite glasses, ladle and “s” hook hangers. Tempting for an easy purchase or gift.
Spode makes a Christmas-pattern punch bowl, Reed and Barton a silver bowl and Portmeirion a “Summer Strawberries” crockery bowl — all with matching cups. We found silver-banded, -covered and -footed bowls, bowls with lids and bowls with pedestal base stands. We encountered innumerable variations of the punch bowl’s modern cousin, the beverage dispenser, with its twisted knob in place of the graceful ladle and sadly, no matching glasses or even a need of the “s” hooks. We’re going to continue the hunt.
A few tips on making punch. Use good ingredients, fresh where possible. Always sweeten a punch with syrup, not sugar. We’ve included a ginger syrup recipe below, but simple syrup is fine if you’re concocting your own punch. Simple syrup is one cup of sugar to one cup of water, heat it on the stove in a saucepan until sugar dissolves, let cool. You can make mint syrup, pomegranate syrup (called grenadine) or spice syrup to add to your punch. Some of these use different sugar-to-water ratios, as below.
Plan on three to four servings of punch per guest, in the four-ounce cups. Add the sparkle (carbonation), the ice block and the alcohol at the last minute. To cool your punch, use a block of ice, not cubes, or, as in the recipe below, refrigerate all ingredients.
For color and cold, try an ice ring with the same fresh fruit that you used for juice in the punch, and perhaps a few mint or lemon verbena leaves if that fits. Cover the bottom of the mold with fruit and add just enough water to cover so that the fruit doesn’t float. Freeze. Then add more water to the top of the shallow mold and freeze again.
We’ll be serving both alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch in the form of the recipe here, which is delicious and so very simple for our guests this season. We raise our glasses to you for happy, simple and fun holidays, and invite you to share with us any of your new-fashioned punch recipes. Or your stories, for every old-fashioned bowl has a story to tell. We love hearing from you.
Ginger Champagne Punch
From “Raising the Bar” by Nick Mautone
We turned to a mixologist for this punch with its tangy sweetness of ginger, lime (all around on the trees now) and sparkling wine. It is simple, delicious and elegant. Makes 18 4-ounce servings. Ann cut the recipe in half for a recent party for neighbors and it worked just fine. Since her neighbor has the lime tree, it seemed only fitting to introduce them to the recipe.
16 ounces (2 cups) Ginger Syrup, chilled (recipe below)
8 ounces (1 cup) fresh lime juice (from approximately 8 limes), chilled
Two 750-milliliter bottles sparkling wine, chilled (or sparkling water for non-alcoholic punch)
1 lime, cut into 8 thin wedges for garnish
Putting it together:
Place the ginger syrup and lime juice in a punch bowl. Stir well to blend. Add the sparkling wine (or sparkling water) and mix gently but thoroughly. Float the lime slices on top and serve.
Makes 2 cups syrup, is easy, and would go with so many drinks, including green tea.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
One 3-inch length of ginger root, peeled and cut into 6 half-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from approximately 1 lime)
Putting it together:
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. (Note: we simmered longer, for about 10 minutes, as we were looking for more heat and ginger flavor.)
Remove from heat and remove and discard the ginger pieces. Let cool, then strain the syrup into a container with a tight-fitting lid, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. May be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of “The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (2012.) Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm-fresh food in school lunches. Subscribe to their new blog covering front-line school food service workers at www.whoscookingschoolunch.com or reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org