Tonight, while watching tv, I learned of the history and origins of punch and I have a whole new respect for the beverage. (See?! Tv isn't totally mindless!)
Punch was not, originally, a sweet, fluffy fruit drink for church functions and high school dances like it has evolved to become today. And it's not a gallon of Hawaiian Punch that you poured in a pint of everclear for the grown ups. It was a serious drink that manly Victorian men of all classes endeavoured to create in earnest.
It was a challenge between men to invent their own special recipe and their secret recipes were strictly guarded. The men would sit all afternoon talking of world news and politics while sipping their punches. In fact, this is where the term, "proud as punch" came from! Because party hosts were so proud of their secret recipe punches and so proudly served them.
Punch came from the Hindi word, "panca," which means, "five ingredients" and was brought back by the British during their time in Imperial India.
The base for panca or punch is set forth as:
1 - sour
2 - sweet
3 - strong
4 - weak
+ (which is the fifth) is spice, most often, nutmeg
The numbers are not just listing the ingredients. They are the ratios by which each ingredient is to be added (which also makes a recipe easier to remember!). The ingredients can be anything so long as the ingredients you use fall into each of the categories and taste good together. This is why the recipes were so secretly guarded.
Sour was usually lime or lemon juice, but can also be orange and even pineapple juice. Any acidic juice will do.
Sweet is sugar, but not a refined sugar. It was usually Demerara sugar. Raw sugar can be used in its stead. A gum syrup was sometimes used too. But, again, anything can be used as long as it brings in the sweet element. http://www.amazon.com/India-Tree-Demerara-Sugar-Pound/dp/B001EO5YIY
Strong, and this is my favorite part ;), is alcohol. Use whatever you prefer and works with the rest of your ingredients. Despite the British disdain for the Dutch, Batavia Arrack (which is a Dutch product) was often, and most originally, used. It comes only from the Island of Java and is distilled from sugarcane and fermented red rice, using chinese pot stills and teak vats. If you can find it, it's definitely better to use than regular rum. http://www.drinkupny.com/Batavia_Arrack_van_Oosten_p/s0020.htm
Weak was, especially in the Victorian punches, usually tea. Most often black, but sometimes green. Simply by varying the type of tea you use or how strongly you brew it can significantly alter the flavor of your punch, so you see, in a challenge, why the recipe was so secretly guarded? It can also simply be water, sparkling water/club soda or champagne. Carbonated ingredients should not be added ahead of time, however, and should only be added at the last minute.
The nutmeg is fresh and grated on top of each separate cup. It is never to be mixed into the punch itself. It's extremely important to keep each flavor distinctly separate. Although nutmeg was most often used, if you are an experimental mixologist, feel free to try other spices.
Cubed or chipped ice should never be used in punches served in a large bowl as the ice will melt too quickly and dilute and destroy that carefully blended group of secret ingredients you worked on so long to perfect. Block ice only.
The beauty of such a simple base recipe is it leaves it open to you to create any sort of punch you want. Go wild and experiment with all sorts of ingredients. How about orange juice, demarara/raw sugar, brandy or cognac and a blood orange tea? Now there's an afternoon delight!
That said, here is the recipe I found interesting and which I fully intend on mixing up at the next family gathering. I believe I'll serve it up in a martini glass for a modern twist.(Note how the ingredients are in order; sour, sweet, strong, weak and increase by 16 oz. each time, hence, the 1,2,3,4 measuring ratio. And with this ratio, if this makes too much for you and you just want a couple of servings, you can proportionately reduce it, i.e., 1 ounce lime juice, 2 ounces sugar, 3 ounces rum, 4 ounces tea.)
16 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, bodies reserved, about 20 limes
32 ounces Demerara sugar
48 ounces Batavia Arrack
64 ounces warm black tea
Freshly grated nutmeg
Combine the juice, lime bodies and sugar in a 5-quart container. Add the tea and stir until the sugar dissolves completely, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the Batavia Arrack and stir to combine. Chill to at least 40 degrees, approximately 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Strain the punch into a punch bowl over a large ice block and serve with freshly grated nutmeg.
Perfect to serve at your next afternoon tea get together for those (over 21!) who prefer their tea a tad stronger.