In preparation for celebrating New Year’s Eve, Nicky and I began to question what the libation of choice should be for kicking off the evening’s festivities in proper form. Perhaps a festive bowl of punch? So we looked back to a recipe more than 250 years old – Philadelphia Fish House Punch.
This highly revered flowing bowl was first created in 1732 in Philadelphia at the Schuylkill Fishing Company, also known as “The Fish House.” The Fish House was a private gentlemen’s society devoted to escaping domestic tribulation while enjoying fishing, cigars, good food and drink. The Fish House Punch became the celebratory drink served at the club. Another version of the story holds that the punch was created many years later to celebrate the momentous occasion of women being allowed into the Fish House for the first time as an attempt to liven up the annual Christmas party.
Either way, this refreshment is the official drink of the oldest club in America. It was enjoyed by our founding fathers, and was the drink of choice raised in toast to the birth of our country’s independence July 4, 1776.
While the recipe itself is reported to be a well-kept secret of the society, several versions have been passed around over the years. All seem to agree on the lemon juice, sugar and water, but the mysterious “mixture” (the liquors proper and quantities) are debated. For the definitive recipe, we turned to the well-respected Jerry Thomas and his writings on Fish House Punch. In his book How To Mix Drinks (the first true bartender’s manual, published in 1862) we found what we believe to be the most accurate recipe.
Philadelphia Fish House Punch
1/3 pint lemon juice (5.33 oz)
3/4 pound superfine sugar
2.5 pints cold water
1 pint of “mixture”
1/4 pint of aged peach brandy (4 oz)
1/2 pint of cognac (8 oz)
1/4 pint Jamaican rum (4 oz)
Combine the ingredients several hours in advance and keep chilled. Then one to two hours before serving, pour into a large punch bowl with a sizable single block of ice. Traditionally this punch is not garnished in any way and decorative ice molds are frowned upon. Ladle the punch over the ice block periodically and serve in punch cups.
We will be enjoying this for New Year’s Eve and will approach the flowing bowl with the remembrance and dignity deserved of such a historic libation. Happy New Year to all of you, and slainte!