Crashy Zacher’s Scamper Juice: punch, the shared libation, the communal drink.
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Holiday punch was out of fashion even in Charles Dickens’ day, but he loved the old recipes for it. And as described in this NPR story with David Wondrich on his book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, punch was created by 17th-century British-empire-building sailors whose beer spoiled in tropical heat. They would have used rum and brandy and lots of it for punch with serious punch.

Today for me it has a whiff of the 1950s, and does bring to mind sherbet for some reason, but as Wondrich points out in the NPR piece, punch is not a cocktail or pedestrian glass of generic Chardonnay—that is, an individual and isolating libation strategy. It is, rather, a communal and group drink, a social drink, a shared drink. I talk a lot about the power of food to connect us to our friends and family and to bring us together. Punch is the fluid version of this power.

And so in this holiday season I encourage a punch bowl, turning to my dear friend Crashy Zacher, whose father, Peter, was the greatest gourmand I ever knew. Crashy, an excellent cook herself, is also a great entertainer when she’s not working her jewelry business in Manhattan’s diamond district or being an awesome, indefatigable mom. She has for years been telling me about her punch and I, feeling in a festive mood and looking forward to the gatherings in the coming weeks, offer this excellent wine- and champagne-based punch for the Friday Cocktail Hour post.

The key to great punch, besides flavor, is strength. You don’t want people getting hammered and slumping to the floor against a wall a half hour after arriving. But nor do you want fruit juice. Crashy’s Scamper Juice is perfect. A big block of ice keeps it cold without diluting it too quickly. Crashy notes that her dad would have used wine to make the ice, concerned about the dilution. Me too. Or use flavored ice.

Here’s Crashy on her punch:

 “This punch is a great icebreaker for any party where you think you might need name tags or are worried people will not mingle. I can’t drink white wine or champagne without a really bad hangover, but this oddly does not ruin me for the next day. Acid from the lemons? Sugar? I would never make it with anything but real lemon juice. It is innocent enough—both looking and tasting—to serve at a daytime party, but you may need safe rides or designated driver.

“Jane and I borrowed the name Scamper Juice from a late night TV movie with Kenny Rogers—”The Gambler”?—after a long night of making batches and drinking it at a holiday party in the ’80s. It puts people in a really good, friendly mood—even teetotalers love it. If you hand it to guests as they enter your party, they will barely taste the alcohol and will be asking for more.”

Scamper Juice (Party Punch)

  • 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 8–10 medium lemons)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (or less if you prefer a more sour taste)
  • 2 bottles chilled dry white wine
  • 1 bottle chilled champagne
  • 1/2 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • ice ring or disc with thin lemon and orange slices (optional)
  1. Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice and chill (overnight, if you want.) Maybe make an ice ring with strawberries and thin lemon and/or orange slices frozen in layers. Combine the remaining ingredient in a punch bowl, add an ice block or serve on the rocks with orange or lemon wedges as you wish.
This will make more than 12 cups. Crashy makes three or four batches at a time depending on how many people will be arriving.


The shopping links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


12 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: Scamper Juice”

  • Pat

    If you don’t have a big punch bowl, and if you want to keep the champagne sparkle (without it going flat), you can make individual batches of a very tasty festive punch-like drink. No one ever refuses this one: Champagne Cooler. Per person, in a very tall slim glass: 1 oz Cognac, 1 oz Cointreau, half a thin slice of orange, 3 ice cubes, then top up the glass with dry champagne. Do not shake, so as to keep the bubbles. Or you could make the classic Air Mail cocktail as described on the Esquire magazine website.

    • ruhlman

      yeah, I was going to mention that. fine to mix everything at once before hand then add the champagne to serve.

      thanks for the cooler recipe, will have to try!

  • Tags

    In keeping with the last two Friday themes of “A Christmas Story” and NPR, I submit Jean Shepherd reading the original short story that led to “A Christmas Story,” (in 5 parts) which has a sidebar link to “Jean Shepherd on Beer” that oddly enough put me even more in the Christmas spirit.

  • karen downie makley

    Love the wine ice cube idea! My pop, who always enjoyed Zacher’s cooking, once asked Peter the secret to fine gourmet cooking. Zacher, who was probably fortifying some beouf bourguignon as my dad queried, turned around with a big bottle of red in hand and replied: “more wine.” Dad thought that was the smartest answer in the world and still chuckles about it!

    • Michael Ruhlman

      that was peter all right! who’s your pop. did we know each other?

  • Teri

    In the swinging 70’s my parents used to have rip roaring parties. All the ladies in long dresses swilling down some punch my mother was famous for. I remember by the end of the night these formerly coiffed ladies were staggering around, hair all cock-eyed. My brother and I would sit on the stairs in our pj’s just laughing and laughing.

  • Ken

    I love to see the guests’ eyes when they find the punch bowl on the table. To me, a big punch bowl with a potent brew says festivities are about commence, and this punch would certainly pave the way.

    I have a punch recipe in rhyme, courtesy of Jennifer Dixon of Two Fat Ladies fame —

    One of sour
    Two of sweet
    Three of strong
    Four of week

    At our house that would one of lime juice, two of simple syrup, three of dark rum and four of water, but if you follow these… what are they? Ratios? Or something? You have an easy to remember basis for any type of flavored punch you want to produce.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      brilliant punch ratio, thank you!

      I might swap the water with something flavorful like seasoned cider.


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