Nowadays, punch can be found at a retro ladies’ luncheon, served in an overflowing bowl heaped with sherbet, or as a non-alcoholic summer drink for scores of thirsty kids. Punch is also well known as being the rum-based tipple of choice for the legendary Charles Dickens. However punch has a rich (and definitely sweet) history behind it that is perhaps less well known. Punch was concocted in the 17th century by British sailors travelling to and from India, as an alternative to beer. Being at sea for months, beer was the favoured beverage for Shipmen who could drink ten pints of beer a day. They were accomplished drinkers but sadly for them their beer supply could not last for long as it would grow stale in warmer waters.
Consequently, sailors had to concoct an alternative drink to ‘oil’ their throats. Once the ships reached the shore of the Indian Ocean, the sailors created new drinks from spices, citrus and rum – ingredients indigenous to their destination. Punch was bought back to Britain by the sailors, and soon spread as far as the American colonies, becaming a party staple.
These alcoholic punches ruled the day at the start of the Victorian Age, however the drink gradually fell out of favour after being sternly criticised by Queen Victoria for being too strong. As a result they started to be replaced by non-alcoholic versions, which remained popular until the 1950s. Ladies were often served frothy egg white- and sherbet based punches, which would ultimately become a part of popular culture.
Today, punches are simple non-alcoholic drinks made of water, sugar, and fresh fruits. However, water can be substituted with strong alcohol for those looking to have a lively end of summer get-together or party.
In this alcoholic punch recipe I have used Jeeves, which is a blend of juicy fruits and alcohol, reminiscent of quintessential British flavours. The following recipe makes a fruity and herby punch suitable for any adult occasion.