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Simply Entertaining: Punchy ideas help to get summer started

Thursday, May 29, 2003

By Mary Miller

In June 1984, I received a lead crystal punch bowl with eight hanging cups as a bridal shower gift. Almost every bride in that era received one. Mine sits on a shelf in the basement and is a receptacle for Christmas ornaments that somehow never made it back into the storage box.

For me, punch is in the same memory bin as Girl Scout Fly-Up ceremonies, mother-daughter teas at church and the bridal shower game of making a wedding dress out of toilet paper. Often a soupy sweet mixture topped with mushy frozen strawberries and foamy lime sherbet, the punches all tasted alike no matter what the ingredients were.

Punch has an interesting history. The word has two possible origins -- one from the word puncheon, an oak cask that can hold more than 100 gallons of liquid. (That's one big punch bowl.)

The second source of punch could be from the Hindi panch, which means five, referring to the five necessary ingredients -- sweet, sour, strong, weak, spicy. The first punches were made of sugar (sweet), lemon (sour), arrack (strong), water (something weak) and tea (spicy). Arrack is a fermented liquid from coconut, molasses or rice.

According to "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink" (Hearst, 1994) , today the term punch usually refers to a bowl of citrus or fruit-based, alcohol-containing party beverage. Non-alcoholic punch is perfect for teetotalers or for children's parties.

Punch was brought to America by sailors from the English settlements in India. Main ingredients, such as citrus, alcohol and sugar, are used today just as they were centuries ago. The first punch bowls from India even had glasses that hung from the side, just like my version.

Punch became popular in the colonies. Fish House Punch, made with lemon juice and two types of brandy, was first served at an exclusive Philadelphia Fishing Club. There are still many varieties of this punch and the ingredients can be hotly debated -- especially after a few glasses of this powerful blend.

Another popular punch was Sangaree, from the French word for blood, sang, because of its red color. The Spanish also had a similar drink made with red wine and fruits. Today, we call this punch Sangria. Sangria was offered at the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair and again became a popular summer drink in the States.

Planter's Punch has been on drink menus at tropical resorts for years. I've seen it in Hawaii, Bermuda and the Florida Keys, although recipes differ from place to place. The funny thing is that Planter's Punch was really created at The Planter's Hotel in St. Louis in the 1940s -- not exactly tropical.

To estimate the amount of punch you'll need, count on 3 to 4 servings per guest. Punch cups are usually smaller than regular cups. They often hold about 4 ounces, rather than the usual 6 to 8 ounces per cup.

Tips for making great punch:

Use top quality ingredients.

Use fresh fruit when possible.

Do not add too much fruit. It makes the punch cloudy.

Keep ingredients cold until serving time.

Add alcohol and carbonated drinks at the last minute.

Don't use ice cubes in the punch, they melt too quickly.

Champagne Punch

A wonderful celebration punch for adults.

  • 1 cup Triple Sec

  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup Chambord
  • 2 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 1 quart chilled ginger ale
  • 2 chilled 750 ml bottles dry champagne

In a bowl, combine the first four ingredients and chill the mixture, covered for at least 4 hours. In a large punch bowl, combine the Triple Sec mixture, the ginger ale, and the champagne.

Makes about 16 cups.

Gourmet

Orange Sherbet Punch

And for the kiddies . . .or anyone who loves Creamsicles. Delicious.

  • 4 cups chilled orange juice

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup chilled sparkling water
  • 1 quart orange sherbet

Combine first five ingredients in a large pitcher. Mix until sugar dissolves. Pour sparkling water into orange juice mixture and stir to blend. Scoop sherbet into large glass punch bowl. Pour punch over and serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.

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