Praiseworthy Punch

A drink with a history

Robert Clark

Punch provides a go-to party drink no matter what the season or the weather. The original meaning of the word “punch” comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit, meaning five, as the drink was originally mixed with five specific ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and either tea or spices. British sailors concocted punch cocktails when they were employees of the British East India Company in the 1600s, and other European countries followed suit. Thus, punch and a host of complementary recipes were born.

Punch is traditionally thought of as a low or non-alcoholic drink served in a large punch bowl with a ladle and is meant to be sipped — not gulped! As most of the preparation is done in advance, punch makes hostessing easier since guests can grab a cup upon arrival and serve themselves.

In the past, serving punch was an art form. It provided an opportunity to use Grandmother’s punch bowl, a great auntie’s ladle, and a multitude of wide-mouth punch cups. Use of linen tea napkins was essential, as were flowers. Ladies and gentlemen would dress up, and manners were expected. There was always a lady assigned to serve; her job was to stand by the punch bowl, smile pleasantly, and ladle the sweet pink drink for the guests while engaging in small talk. Generally, petits fours or other sweets were served on silver platters with a waft of music in the air.

Punch continues to be a modern crowd pleaser. Today’s classic punch contains pineapple juice and pink Hawaiian punch. A large block of ice melts slowly to keep the punch cold, or scoops of sherbet floating on the surface. Often, a sparkling or fizzy component, like ginger ale, is added right before serving for a refreshing finish.

The famous recipe for Planter’s Punch was invented at the bar of the Planter’s House Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, and features a mixture of rum, pineapple juice, grenadine, soda water, Curacao, bitters, and lemon juice. Pimm’s Royale Punch, enjoyed by many today, is a punch fusion created in England in the 1840s. It consists of Pimm’s No.1, Champagne, lemon juice, orange juice, sugar, cucumber slices, and fresh fruit. Traditional punch parties are an easy, friendly, fun, and delicious way to serve friends and family. Pull out the hidden punch bowl in the back of the cupboard and resurrect a tradition!


The Boston Cooking School Cookbook

Tea Punch II

Submitted by Elizabeth Putnam

3 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

1 cup pineapple juice

1 cup raspberry syrup

1 1/2 cups tea infusion

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup hot water

1 quart ginger ale

Mix fruit juices with tea. Boil sugar and water for 5 minutes, combine, chill. Just before serving, add ginger ale. Note: raspberry syrup can be made using frozen or fresh and with added sugar — omitting 1 1/4 cup extra sugar.


The tradition of serving punch provides an opportunity to resurrect Grandmother’s punch bowl and serve party confections such as these delicious petits fours and tarts from Tiffany’s bakery.

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