This drink really packs a punch

Photo courtesy Liza, CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

March/April 2022

By Jean Kerr

Fish House Punch for a crowd

Not all recipes call for the addition of black tea, but I like the flavor balance it provides, and a bit of caffeine in the mix is welcome. You can freeze a bowl smaller than your punch bowl with lemons and sliced peaches. When the punch is ready to go, slide into your large punchbowl. This will dilute the punch over time, which is probably a good thing. And, as always, feel free to create your own version.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups room temperature water
  • 2 cups black tea, chilled
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 quarts of dark or gold rum
  • 1 quart good cognac
  • 2 cups peach brandy

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and half the water and stir til dissolved

2. Stir all the additional ingredients well and chill (if bowl size allows!)

3. Add frozen ice ring or bowl and serve with lemon twists or slices

Makes approximately two dozen drinks.

When our editor, Ali, announced that Points East would be celebrating their 25th anniversary this month, she asked if I could come up with something celebratory for this column. I pondered and, looking back, launch parties hosted by renowned boatbuilder Gordon Swift and his wife Doris in Kensington, New Hampshire, were some of the most festive occasions. My husband worked for “Swifty” at the time, and I have a clear memory (well, not that clear actually) of big bowls full of Fish House Punch, lots of good food, good conversation and gorgeous wooden boats.

Fish House Punch is one of those dangerous libations that tastes sweet and tart and fruity and goes down all too easily. It is, in fact, about 85% hard liquor, a combo of rum, cognac, and peach brandy with a few other non-alcoholic flavor enhancers like tea and lemon juice… While my memories of Fish House Punch have a New England connection, its origins come from further south: the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania.

According to my usual online sources, the Schuykill Fishing Company of Philadelphia, i.e., the Fish House, was a rather exclusive society gentleman’s club, devoted to fishing but also to the guy stuff guys did in those days, like smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. Fish House Punch is said to have first been concocted in 1732. There are numerous anecdotes (current and historic) attesting to the wallop the punch packs. There is evidence that it was a favorite tipple of George Washington’s and that Washington, after proposing 13 toasts in honor of the victorious colonies, did not write in his journal for three days after. Just busy, no doubt. The size of the punch bowl was often noted, being described as large as a baptismal font, or in one case, “Big enough to have swimmed half a dozen young geese.”

By the late 1700s, there was reliable evidence that ladies were included in the fun. As visiting English clergyman and diarist Andrew Burnaby wrote in the 1998 3rd edition of “Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North America,” “There is a society of sixteen ladies and as many gentlemen who meet once a fortnight upon the Schuylkill. [sic] They have a very pleasant room erected in a romantic situation upon the banks of that river, where they generally dine and drink tea. . .There are boats and fishing tackle of all sorts, and the company divert themselves with walking, fishing, going up water, dancing, singing, conversing, or just as they please.” Sounds like a party to me!

Happy 25th, Points East! I’m proud to be writing for you!

Jean Kerr is the author of four cookbooks, including “Mystic Seafood” and “Maine Windjammer Cooking.” She is the former editor of Northeast Flavor magazine and a regular contributor to Cruising World.