Any special occasion was excuse enough to serve punch….
So says Richard J. Hooker, author of Food and Drink in America,
A History (1981). Yes, bowls of punch frequently graced many
a table during the 18th and early 19th centuries in America,
particularly those of the upper class. Of course, it could be
made with just about any liquor, but the frequent, and most
preferred, choice was a fine, strong, Jamaican rum.
However, while the elite enjoyed a good punch, they were
most definitely not alone in enjoying rum itself. Far from it!
All members of society likely partook of a glass or two now
and then. In fact, rum quickly became the number one drink
of choice for members of the working class: the carpenters;
the fishermen; the soldiers ‘n sailors; the field hands; and
so on. Of course, as demand for a bottle o’ rum grew, so
did the number of distilleries. According to Hooker:
…the number of New England distilleries
multiplied, especially in Massachusetts
and Rhode Island. By 1763 there were
159 distilleries making rum in New England….
Okay. I’ve steeped the pared peels of nine lemons in a quart
of rum for 24 hours. On to the next step:
Then mix with it the juice of the lemons…
…a pound and a half of loaf-sugar…
…two grated nutmegs, and a quart of water.
Add a quart of rich unskimmed milk, made boiling hot…
Now, “unskimmed milk” means, essentially, straight from the cow.
It would be milk that still contains all the cream that eventually
settles out (or rather, rises up, to the top). Fortunately, there’s
a high-end grocery near me that sells non-homogenized whole
milk. Huzzah! And so I used that. I also added about a quarter
cup or so of heavy cream for good measure.
…and strain the whole through a jelly-bag.
(I used a finely-woven cheesecloth)
I made sure to squeeze out every last drop, leaving behind nothing
but scrunched-up lemon peels:
And it’s ready to go! First though, I grated a little nutmeg on top
and conducted a taste-test:
Pretty tasty. I think Andy and company enjoyed it that Monday
night, as well. HUZZAH!
Here’s the receipt I used, in its entirety, from Eliza Leslie’s Directions
for Cookery, in its Various Branches (10th edition, 1840):
FINE MILK PUNCH.
Pare off the yellow rind of nine
large lemons, and steep it for
twenty-four hours in a quart
of brandy or rum. Then mix
with it the juice of the lemons,
a pound and a half of loaf-sugar,
two grated nutmegs, and a quart
of water. Add a quart of rich
unskimmed milk, made boiling
hot, and strain the whole
through a jelly-bag. You may
either use it as soon as it is
cold, or make a larger quantity,
(in the above proportions,) and
bottle it. It will keep several months.
For comparison, here is the punch receipt that Benjamin Franklin
wrote in a letter to his friend James Bowdoin, on October 11, 1763.
Note the similarities and differences between this and the above:
To make Milk Punch.
Take 6 quarts of Brandy, and the Rinds
of 44 Lemons pared very thin; Steep
the Rinds in Brandy 24 Hours, then
strain it off. Put to it 4 Quarts
of Water, 4 Large Nutmegs grated,
2 Quarts of Lemon Juice, 2 pounds
of double refined Sugar. When the
Sugar is dissolv’d boil 3 Quarts
of Milk and put to the rest hot
as you take it off the Fire, and
stir it about. Let it stand 2 Hours;
then run it thro’ a Jelly-bag till
it is clear; then bottle it off.
Opening illustration from the cover of Early American Taverns: For
the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers, by Kym S. Rice (1983).
NEXT: the beverage made without rum