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 ½ cups sugar (or less if you prefer a more sour taste)
- 2 bottles chilled dry white wine
- 1 bottle chilled champagne
- ½ cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier
- ½ cup brandy
- ice ring or disc with thin lemon and orange slices (optional)
- 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.
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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.