Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Fish House Punch: Another Festive Drink From Centuries Past

When I don't have a case of mead in the refridgerator and I have a traditional American event to celebrate (Thanksgiving or Independence Day--especially centenials), I can usually mix up a batch of Fish House Punch. While I don't know exactly when it was first concocted, I do have a recipe in a cookbook that purports to be a family recipe from Baltimore (MD), 1732; that may be post-first-Thanksgiving, but it is pre-Revolution and involves rum, a New World alcoholic beverage par excellance.

In the cookbooks at my disposal, I found at least three recipes (including the 1732 one). They vary somewhat, but the main principles remain:
  • rum and brandy (in various proportions)
  • lemon juice, sugar, and water (lemonade)
  • a little peach brandy
  • possibly strong tea instead of some of the water
After a fair amount of calculation and deduction, I've converted lemons to tablespoons of lemon juice, bottles to fluid ounces (assuming they were fifths and not quarts...Joy of Cooking, I'm disappointed to encounter this ambiguity!), rescaled them to individual portions of 3 Tb (one jigger) of rum+brandy, and the resulting summary table is below. Personally, I suspect the Mr. B recipe has been modernized and suited to Mr. B's product line, since it is high on brandy and low on rum (and high on peach brandy) whereas I believe rum would have been much more affordable in the colonies; my preference is the "KK", perhaps because I like a little more lemon juice. They all seem to be about half strong spirits, so about twice as strong as wine, and just a little stronger than vermouth; serve with lots of ice!

IngredientKKJoCMr. B
Brandy1 Tb1 Tb7 tsp
Dark rum2 Tb1 Tb
Light rum1 Tb2 tsp
Peach brandy1/2 tsp1/2 tsp2 tsp
Lemon juice1 Tb1 tsp2-3 tsp
Sugar1 tsp1 tspto taste
Water2 tb2 Tb4 tsp

2 tsp

Update (25 November 2007): The New York Times has a scanned article from The Philadelphia Times, which they reprinted on May 24, 1896: HOW FISHHOUSE PUNCH IS MADE

The key points (as far as I'm concerned -- because they support what I've written above) are:
  • the punch recipe was 164 years old at that point, so would date from 1732
  • it contains one bottle of brandy, two bottles of Jamaica rum, 1 quart of sour (lemon juice) and a pound of sweet (sugar), a dash of peach brandy and some sliced fruit.
On the other hand,
  • no mention of water or ice! And mention that a version of the drink with more sugar was associated with more frequent attacks of gout (from dehydration, I think).
I maintain my recommendation to add the water and serve with lots of ice!

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