Why is it that we only drag out the old punch bowl over the holidays? The rest of the year it sits in the back of a closet or cupboard, neglected until holiday party time, which is too bad because a carefully constructed punch can be a welcome treat any time of the year.
As it happens, we have two punch bowls; one inherited from my mother, the other a leftover from a previous marriage/life. Both sit in the same closet, waiting for the holiday parties to begin.
When I got them out a few days ago, it occurred to me that I had no idea why we call it “punch” and put it in a “punch” bowl, so I did a bit of research.
There are apparently two versions of the history of punch. The first is that the word is an extract from its longer origin, puncheon, which was a wooden cask holding 70 to 80 gallons of fermenting spirits. (Whoopee!!)
When a lesser amount was needed for any celebratory occasion, it was taken from the puncheon and transferred to a bowl (usually wooden) and it came to be called punch, served, of course, in a punch bowl. Makes sense to me.
The other version, somewhat less obvious, is that the word comes from the Hindustani word panch, which is loosely translated as “five.”
Traditionally, the holiday drink called “panch,” (which somehow became punch in English) must have at least five basic ingredients: sweet, sour, weak, strong and spices.
Over the course of many, many years, the required five ingredients became more complex. A proper punch, it was said, should have one sour ingredient, two sweet, three strong, four weak and spices.
Today, however, I get the feeling that punch is whatever the host/hostess pours into a bowl and calls punch. I’ve had some outstanding party punches, but I’ve also had some ghastly concoctions that could more accurately been called radiator cleaner.
One important thing to remember about punch is that it’s often very difficult to tell just how potent it is because of the many masking flavors in the mixture. Many a party guest has been flattened by too many trips to the punch bowl, so some hosts prepare two punches, one with alcohol and one without, making sure they’re clearly labeled.
Spiking the punch, by the way, is a social no-no among adults, but with a large mixed-age group you may want to ask someone to keep one eye on the punch bowl.
For any party with more than six guests, punch is so much easier than trying to mix drinks to suit individuals. My idea of a great holiday table is one large, attractive bowl filled with a mouth-watering, not too sweet, party punch, surrounded by plates of interesting hors d’ oeuvre.
So, I now raise my punch cup with a toast to all our readers. May your holidays be joyful, your spirits light; may there be lots of laughter, good food shared with family and friends and love.
One of the fine things about the holiday season is the presence of cranberries, fresh and otherwise, lots of them. I try to work them in to many of my holiday recipes, including punch. Their color and tart/sweet flavor is perfect for a bowl of holiday cheer.
MULLED CRANBERRY WINE PUNCH
1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 bottle (48 oz.) cranberry juice cocktail
½ cup raisins
4-6 cinnamon sticks (about 3-inchers)
2 bottles of fruity, dry red wine, such as a Beaujolais (or, if you wish to make this non-alcoholic, use 6 cups of apple juice and 3-4 T. lemon juice)
¼ to ½ cup sugar, to taste
1 t. almond extract
¾ cup orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Cointreau), optional for non-alcoholic
Sort through the berries, discarding any bruised or decaying fruit. Rinse berries and place in a 5-6 qt. saucepan; add cranberry juice, raisins and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and simmer over low heat to bring out flavors, about 20 min.
Add wine (or apple juice and lemon juice) and sugar to taste. Heat until steaming, 5-10 min., but do not boil.
Add almond extract and liqueur (if using); keep punch warm on lowest heat until ready to serve. Ladle into cups or stemmed glasses. Serves 12.
Note: A crockpot on lowest setting is an excellent way to keep a mulled punch warm during a party.
As long as we’re talking mulled punches, here’s another delicious mulled wine punch, this one with pineapple.
MULLED PINEAPPLE WINE PUNCH
2 oranges, rinsed
6 cups pineapple juice (canned or from concentrate)
2 T. minced fresh ginger
¼ cup sugar
1 bottle dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Fume Blanc)
1 bottle sweeter dessert wine, such as Muscat, Calvados, etc.)
Trim and discard ends from oranges; cut fruit crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices, discarding seeds. Put slices into a 5-6 qt. saucepan, add pineapple juice, ginger and sugar. Bring to boil, cover and simmer on low heat about 15 min. to bring out flavors.
Add both wines, heat until steaming, but don’t boil. Keep punch warm over low heat until ready to serve. Serves 12.
Note: For non-alcoholic punch, substitute 5-6 cups white grape juice for wines.
At some point during this partying season, there should be a champagne punch, right? This one is a sparkling standout.
STRAWBERRY CHAMPAGNE PUNCH
1/3 cup sugar
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup brandy
½ cup chilled club soda
2 bottles chilled Champagne (I like it quite dry for this punch)
Strawberries, sliced thin, and limes, sliced thin, for garnish
In a small saucepan combine the sugar with ½ cup of water and simmer for
5 min., or until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool completely.
In a food processor, purée the strawberries with their syrup and the lime juice. Transfer the mixture to a large punch bowl, forcing it through a fine sieve if you wish. Stir in the sugar syrup, brandy and club soda. Chill the mixture, covered, until it is cold. Add the Champagne, slowly, just before serving. Serve in punch glasses garnished with a strawberry and/or lime slice. Makes about
And, yes, like it or not, there should be eggnog, shouldn’t there? I’m not a big fan, but I do like this one. It’s quite potent, however, so keep that in mind.
BOURBON RUM EGGNOG
9 large eggs, separated, keep whites at room temp.
¾ cup sugar
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup bourbon (100 proof, preferably)
½ cup dark rum
1 t. vanilla
2½ cups milk
¼ t. salt
Freshly grated nutmeg and/or ground cinnamon, for sprinkling on top
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until mixture is thick and pale and ribbons when beaters are lifted. In another large bowl, beat 2/3 of the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. In yet another bowl, beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture until well combined, then fold in the whipped cream gently but thoroughly.
Pour mixture into a large punch bowl. Whisk in the bourbon, rum, vanilla, milk and salt. Chill the eggnog, covered, for at least 4 hrs., or until it is cold. Just before serving, beat the remaining 3 egg whites until they hold soft peaks then fold them into the eggnog. Sprinkle eggnog with nutmeg and/or cinnamon. Makes about 18 cups.