by KAREN COOPER
What does punch make you think of? Wedding receptions, church socials, school dances? For me it brings back memories of big Christmas gatherings and the one time of year when our grandmother’s special punch would be served. The special bowl and small, elegant glasses would be brought out and set around the bowl to make the table look festive and full of promise.
With its history dating back to the 17th century, punch is considered to be the world’s earliest cocktail. It originated most likely in India, with some accounts suggesting that the name is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘paanch’. Others theorize that this wasn’t the case and that the drink’s name originates from puncheons, which was a term for alcohol barrels used on ships during that era. Punch was thought to be an alternative to beer which would spoil on the long voyages.
There were originally five basic elements of punch: a type of alcohol, citrus, sugar, water and spice (mainly nutmeg). From the ships, punch began to flow into fancy pubs, coffee houses and cocktail parties of the English society, which is where it began to be served in large, wide bowls known as punch bowls and ladled into individual glasses. Most often made of silver, ceramic or painted with inscriptions, these ornate bowls have become precious collector’s items today. One of these early American punch bowls, made by New York silversmith Cornelius Kierstede sometime between 1700 and 1710, was sold at a 2010 auction for $5.9 million, a record price for American silver.
From Britain, the drink spread around the world and to the American colonies where records suggest that America’s Founding Fathers drank bowls of punch to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
A prominent sight at social gatherings during the 19th and 20th centuries, punch bowls have managed to maintain their appeal over the years in large part due to their versatility. They have been used as table centerpieces filled with greenery, fresh flowers, lemons, or anything a creative hostess could dream up. They can function as a container of ice to chill wine or champagne. They can be filled with candy at holiday time to delight the children who come to visit (young and young at heart). Even when empty, a punch bowl looks beautiful sitting proudly on a table.
In my memories of punch, there was always a beautifully ornate ice ring floating in the bowl to keep the delicious beverage cool. To make an ice ring, many people use a bundt cake pan or other ice mold and fill it with ingredients from the punch along with fruit to make it especially eye-catching. This keeps your punch from getting watered down the way it would if the ice ring only contained water.
Always make sure you have enough cups for your guests and that your ladle is ready for serving. Just like a cocktail, punch is even more fun and special for your guests when you have garnishes available on the buffet table. To garnish your punch, think fruit, herbs, or edible flowers. Any of these will give your punch flavor and wow your guests. Citrus slices, berries, melon balls, fresh mint and cucumber are just some of the things you can experiment with depending on the type of punch you’re serving and what appeals to your senses.
As a final touch, you may want to add a cute paper umbrella to each guest’s cup just for fun. Whatever you do, keep it in the spirit that punch was always intended…festive and social. A great way to bring people together around a lovely bowl filled with your delicious creation.
Grandmother’s Holiday Punch Ingredients:
1 Jug Orange Lavaburst HI-C or Orange Hawaiian Punch
2 liter bottle Ginger Ale
1 Jar Red Maraschino cherries
1 Jar Green Maraschino cherries (harder to find)
2 cans crushed pineapple
Preparing the Punch:
Add equal parts orange drink and ginger ale to punch bowl
Add red maraschino cherries with juice
Add green maraschino cherries draining juice first
Add both cans of crushed pineapple with juice
Wash and slice both lemons and add them to the bowl
Stir gently and serve
For an added kick, add 1 oz of sloe gin to your guest’s punch glass