Drink Like the Revolutionaries: Vintage Punch for the Fourth of July

Rebecca Penovich

Photo by Rebecca Penovich

Photo by Rebecca Penovich

Have you noticed that punch is making a comeback? Perhaps it never went out of style in your neck of the woods. I see the growing interest in punch as an offshoot of the cocktail revival. For a party, instead of making individual cocktails by hand, you can treat your guests to a freshly squeezed punch with artisan spirits or sparkling wine, exotic juices, homemade simple syrups and herb infusions.

Some of the oldest recorded recipes in this country are for punch as it has been a centerpiece of celebrations in America since the 18th century. This idea sent me on a quest to look at punch recipes in my collection of old cookbooks to see if I could find one that had some interesting history and was still palatable for today.



In The Gentlemen’s Companion, Volume II, Being An Exotic Drinking Book or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask [possibly one of the greatest drinking book titles of the century] (Derrydale Press  Inc., New York, 1939, reprinted in 1946), the bon vivant Charles H. Baker, Jr. writes that punch comes from the Hindi word pronounced ‘paunch’ meaning “five” for the five ingredients: “Toddy or arrack, lemon or lime, tea, sugar, and water.”

The Williamsburg Cookbook (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1971) cites the same Hindustani origin of punch calling out the five ingredients as “spirits, water, sliced lemons or limes, sugar, and spice.”   The authors go on to quote Ned Ward, an eighteenth-century English tavern-keeper who wrote the following couplet in praise of punch:

Immortal Drink, whose compound is of Five,

More praise dost thou deserve than man can give.

Thus punch, like so many things, came to the English from the Far East by way of the Spice Route.

Revolutionary planters celebrated with punch

Lee Fendall House. Photo by Rebecca Penovich

Lee Fendall House. Photo by Rebecca Penovich

One of the earliest American recipes I unearthed in my quest was from A Taste of the Past by the Ladies of The Lee-Fendall House for Light Horse Harry Lee’s Arrack Punch.


Harry Lee served three times as Governor of Virginia and was a close friend and confidant of George Washington and father to Robert E. Lee.

According to this volume, published in 1976 by the Virginia Trust for Historic Preservation, Arrack (a strong spirit distilled from rum) figures in a story still told in Williamsburg today. In May 1736, after William Randolph agreed to sell 200 acres to Peter Jefferson, the bargain was sealed over Williamsburg tavern-keeper Mr. Wetherbourn’s “biggest bowl of Arrack punch.”   Those acres eventually became home to Shadwell plantation (the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson).

The Ladies of the Lee-Fendall House say the toast always given over a bowl of Arrack at the House is that of Harry Lee’s friend, George Washington: “All our friends!”

Light Horse Harry Lee’s Arrack Punch

  • 1/2 gallon bourbon

  • 1/2 gallon claret

  • 1 gallon boiling water

  • 1 large (12 oz. can frozen orange juice)

  • 1/4 pound sugar cubes or lumps


  • Prepare the orange juice as directed on the can.  Pour it over the sugar in a large container.

  • Heat the claret to a simmer.

  • Add claret, bourbon and boiling water to orange juice and sugar.

  • When cool, store in refrigerator for at least one week.  (It improves with age.)

  • Serve cold and watch the color come into the taster’s cheeks.

(Credit is given to Nancy Marshall, Director of the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee, for testing and tasting until she discovered this substitute for Arrack.)

No offense to Light Horse Harry, Ms. Marshall, or the Ladies of The Lee-Fendall House, but I didn’t think Arrack punch (or its substitute) would be drinkable today. I couldn’t wrap my head around mixing bourbon and claret and, instead of watching “the color come into the taster’s cheeks”, I imagined “the looks on my taster friends’ faces” if I tried to foist it on them.


So back to Charles Baker, Jr.’s Exotic Drinking Book (which was proving to be a fascinating read.) What I had in mind to serve was something lighter and fizzier and I found this recipe that might fit the bill:

Charleston’s St. Cecelia Society Punch


  • Peach or apricot brandy, 1 fifth, peach is traditional

  • Jamaica rum, 1 pint; and get good old rum

  • Dry champagne, 4 quarts

  • Cognac brandy, 1 bottle

  • Sugar, 3 cups

  • Fresh pineapple, 1 ripe one, sliced fine and cored

  • Lemons or limes, 6 lemons or 10 limes, sliced thin

  • Green tea, 1 quart

  • Club soda, or other good sparkling water, 2 quarts total


  • Slice lemon and pineapple and marinate, tightly covered, overnight with brandy.

  • At noon of the evening when [you] plan to serve it add rum, tea, sugar and peach brandy.  Blend well.

  • Just before serving, put in champagne first, then club soda.

  • Chill cups for best results, and remember that good club soda, although costing a few cents more than the average local “charged water” or seltzer siphon, actually adds not a hint of antique brass to ruin the other worthy company of liquids!  Either Schweppes or Perrier are in order.

An almost identical recipe appears in Charleston Receipts by the Junior League of Charleston and while Mr. Baker’s book does not say how many his punch serves, Charleston Receipts says it serves 80 to 90!

Since I was not planning a debutante ball or cotillion for the Fourth of July, I went back again to the well.  This time I sent an email to my good friend, Dawn Duhé Ballenger, a native of Louisiana and a fellow alumna of mine from Miss Porter’s School. Her family has been serving punch in Lafayette for generations and I figured she’d have a good go-to recipe for any occasion. She was happy to oblige.

Dawn writes:

I can remember two punch drinks served regularly. One is a pretty standard Bourbon punch referred to as The Punch. The other is Red Rooster.  This is also a cocktail, but it is often served in a punch bowl around Christmas because of its bright red color — very festive. Red Rooster is always a slush, but I’ve had The Punch as a slush or liquid.

The Punch


  • 6 C. water

  • 2 C. STRONG tea (2 C water, 4 regular tea bags — let steep until the water is cool)

  • 2 C. Bourbon

  • 1 C. sugar

  • 1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate (thawed)

  • 1 6 oz .can frozen lemon juice concentrate (thawed)

  • Float — mint or lemon slices or both


  • Combine in a large bowl and mix until sugar dissolves.

  • Put punch into freezer bags and freeze until about an hour before serving.

  • Dump the frozenish punch into a large beautiful bowl.  Mush it around every 15 minutes or so.

Red Rooster


  • 6 C. cranberry juice cocktail

  • 1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate (thawed)

  • 2 C. Vodka


  • Mix together and serve as liquid or use same freezing process as The Punch.

Both sounded delicious.  At first I was attracted to making the Red Rooster because of its color to serve on the Fourth of July.  But I was also attracted to The Punch because of its adherence to the principle of Five.

I decided to go with two: one for the kids (comprising orange juice, hibiscus herbal tea, and Pellegrino (pictured at the top of the post) and The Punch for the adults.


Do try a punch for your next party or for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. If you do, you can toast our Founding Fathers & Mothers; our East Indian friends who introduced exotic spices, tea and ginger into this country; and the many enslaved (now freed) men and women who grew the food, and made and served the punch, with George Washington’s favorite toast “All our friends!”


Rebecca Penovich is a freelance pr professional who writes about food and entertaining at Corks & Cake (www.corksandcake.com).  When she’s not in her  vintage kitchen, she works with television and film clients (Chefs A’Field, National Geographic Entertainment) to match them with brands and promote their partnerships


2 thoughts on “Drink Like the Revolutionaries: Vintage Punch for the Fourth of July

  1. Pingback: Life Is What Happens While You’re Making Other [blog] Plans |

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