Until quite recently I thought “punch” was essentially a huge cocktail served in a bowl — sort of a family sized Manhattan with a ladle.
Now that I have twice conjured American Orange Punch, I can report that I was deliciously, deliriously wrong.
An “authentic” punch, I learned from the magnificent David Wondrich volume, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, requires among many other things proper oleo-saccharum-izing, the vigilant filtering of pips [!], the manual agitation of sugar your mama never heard of, and the attentive employment of a vegetable peeler and cheesecloth — to say nothing of boiling, infusing, cooling, funneling, stirring, and, not least, carefully and repeatedly taste-testing.
This took me 4 hours the first time but only 3 the second.
American Orange Punch: A populist libation
I chose from Wondrich’s volume American Orange Punch for two related reasons:
- It was served at the epic 1829 inauguration of Andrew Jackson — the infamous “open door” White House party, where The People were invited in to celebrate the heartland hero’s election. By some popular accounts his supporters proceeded to get turbulently drunk on the stuff — smashing glassware, staging fist-fights, engaging in rude assignations, nearly suffocating the President by overpacking the parlor, etc. White House staff had to set the barrels of the punch outside to get the ruffians out of the place.
- As it happened, both holiday parties I brought the punch to took place within a few miles of the White House. Call me seditious, but in 2016 the theme of a rowdy idiot populist mob descending on the White House, fighting, stealing stuff, breaking shit, screwing around, and generally defaming the office of the Presidency seemed to have a certain resonance. That all this was happening around a famously Orange American….well, I was too weak a man to resist.
Making American Orange Punch
Anyhow, like I said, making punch is a lot of work.
STEP 1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the peels of 2 oranges, getting as little of the white pith as possible.
STEP 2. Cover with sugar — I used old-school, little-processed Demerara to convey that “whole grain crunch.”
STEP 3. Muddle the sugar into the peels. Set aside for an hour. Muddle again. Set aside for half an hour. Cover it with boiling water and let it infuse an hour.
STEP 4. Juice the oranges.
STEP 5. Strain the juice, capturing the orange-y goodness tucked deep in the “pips” and seeds.
STEP 6. Pour boiling water through the pips and force everything through a screen except the dregs. Pitch the dregs, and add all that captured pippy yumminess to the infused orange juice.
STEP 7. Mix up the booze. In this case, a Trinidadian rum, cognac, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and orange curacao.
STEP 8. Unexpected ingredient: Half a bottle of porter.
STEP 9. Add the booze to the infused, pip-ified, oleo-sacrumized orange juice, peels removed. Run through cheesecloth as many times as you have the patience for. Add water to taste, more liqueurs as you wish. Refrigerate and allow the ingredients to get thoroughly acquainted.
And then all Hell broke loose…
The final product, to be frank, is the color of diarrhea — an effect I attempted to mitigate by freezing the orange peels into the ice, and draping long ribbons of peel around the bowl like cheerful crime scene tape.
The punch was vividly, exotically orange in flavor, easy to drink and full of power. All that dark booze and the lightness of the orange faced off very amicably.
People loved it, mostly. Many asked about the recipe until I got sick of talking about pith, oleo-saccharum, &etc.
I wish I could say that the punch led the guests to seize pitchforks and torches and assemble loudly at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
We are continually told we live now in unprecedented times. I suppose there is no reason to expect history would repeat itself, no matter how fondly wished for.
Recipe for American Orange Punch
This recipe comes from Jerry Thomas’s A Bartender’s Guide (1862).
- The juice of 3 or 4 oranges
- The peel of 1 or 2 oranges
- 3/4 lb. lump sugar
- 3 1/2 pints boiling water
“Infuse half an hour, strain, add 1/2 pint of porter, 3/4 to 1 pint each of each, rum and brandy (either alone 1 1/2 to 2 pints), and add more warm water and sugar, if desired weaker or sweeter. A liqueur glass of Curacoa, noyau, or maraschio improves it….”
Don’t try this using the recipe above, which is in 19th-century barman’s shorthand.
For preparation of the oleo-saccharum and many other clarifications, details, and tweaks, see Wondrich’s book Punch. Without the book’s contemporary guidance and hard-won wisdom, I’d have been completely lost.