Among the many traditions brought forth to America by European colonists several hundred years ago, the “communal bowl” was an important component to creating a better life for these stalwart souls. To ease the rigors of travel for judges and political officials traveling from courthouse to courthouse, or town meeting to town meeting, laws were passed in most of the original American colonies calling for the establishment of common victualing stations along the major roads throughout the country. In fact, in Massachusetts, as early as the 1630’s, laws requiring each town to establish a tavern for the purposes of dispensing food, libation and affording reputable lodging were on the books. Hence the reason why there are so many colonial inns and taverns along what were the major routes across the state (i.e. Routes 1, 2, 9, 16, 20, etc.). A fixture in these roadside establishments was the communal bowl, which was always filled with a heady mixture, ready to slake the thirst of the many weary travelers crossing those well-worn thresholds.
In colonial America, your beverage choices were fairly constrained. For starters, water, while seemingly plentiful was always suspect and most folks chose to limit their intake to ensure better health. Beer and wine were available and consumed, but again, sanitary conditions, or in the case of wine, long sea voyages, often rendered these beverages undesirable. Fortified wines, like Madeira, Sherry and Port were very well received, and drunk with abandon in many homes and taverns across the state. Whiskey had yet to become a popular drink, but rum on the other hand, was America’s spirit of choice. That said, many of the colonial rums were pretty rough commodities, often requiring the addition of other ingredients to mask the awful flavor of the spirit. Hello Punch…
As I noted previously, punch was a long-standing European tradition. It stands to reason that the early colonists would want to recreate this tradition here in their new homeland. Punch provides many benefits: it’s a bacteriologically safe beverage; it’s warming after a cold, damp horse ride; it inspires camaraderie and togetherness; and it eases the nerves and promotes good sleep. Or so said colonial tavern owners. Rum punch was ubiquitous in Massachusetts and each tavern had their own recipe, some better than others.
Punch figures large in the lead up to our revolutionary war against England, fueling many a late hour discussion about democracy, taxation and what needed to be done about all those Red Coats… In April, we here in Massachusetts celebrate the “firing of the shot heard round the world,” commemorating those brave souls that took up arms against oppression and gave rise to the United States of America. Heady stuff, indeed and how better to celebrate than recreating the rocket fuel that emboldened those gallant Minutemen beside that “rude bridge.”
Besides, I needed an excuse to finally start playing around with punch…
I began this adventure as I do most of my travails, with research and experimentation. Ah, the things that I do in the name of science, history and friendship. Research uncovered a number of recipes claiming to be “colonial-age punches,” but many seemed suspect. One however seemed like a credible starting point – the venerable Fish House Punch. The recipe was outlined as follows:
¾ pound of sugar, dissolved in water
1 bottle lemon juice
2 bottles Jamaican rum
1 bottle Cognac
2 bottles of water
1 glass of peach cordial.
Place a cake of ice in a large bowl, mix the above ingredients well and pour into the bowl. Ladle over ice and enjoy.
I of course dutifully recreated the above punch, albeit in a single-serving quantity and found the concoction fairly unbalanced – the tartness from the lemon juice was predominant and overall the punch tasted weak and too diluted. However, it was a starting point.
I wanted to tame the tartness of the lemon, but maintain a crispness that would actually allow you to drink the punch with food. I also wanted to deepen the flavor and make the drink more spirituous. I spent many evenings bench testing various combinations. I wanted to stay as true to the original ingredients in the name of historical accuracy. My final recipe ended up as follows:
1.75L Jamaican Rum
.75L Peach Brandy
.75L Cognac (VSOP)
.75L Manischewitz Cream White Concord
.375L Lemon Juice
.75L Simple Syrup (3:1)
Mix the above ingredients and ladle over ice cubes in lowball glasses. The recipe makes approximately (30) 6 oz. servings.
While I haven’t started placing a communal punch bowl in the entryway of our home for weary travelers to stop and refresh themselves before pressing on, I will find specific moments of celebration where the above recipe will be both festive and refreshing for our guests.