There’s a little place just out of town,
Where, if you go to lunch,
They’ll make you forget your mother-in-law
With a drink called Fish-House Punch.
— The Cook (1885)
Forgive us, John Hohenadel, but in honor of our founding fathers today, we’re stepping away from beer (an every day sustenance in colonial America) to punch — a treat of the upper classes, a social drink meant to be shared communally along with debate and conversation.
The British in particular loved to get their punch on. A poet visiting the English colony of Maryland in 1708 was met with “a herd of planters on the ground, overwhelmed with punch” — but by the mid 1700’s punch became drink of choice for the Age of Enlightenment, fueling political discussions and alliances that would ultimately lead to our country’s independence.
Indeed, a band of punch-loving Quakers were the US’s first real patriots, if you consider their tongue-in-cheek declaration of “The Colony of Schuylkill” in 1732 a true act of secession. Which it most certainly was not.
No, the twenty-eight gentlemen who signed a treaty with the Lenni-Lenape that May 1st in 1732, established their “colony” under King George for the exclusive pleasures of fishing, hunting, eating and drinking. They leased land along the Schuylkill (off MLK drive, around Girard) where they built a clubhouse, which they naturally called “the Castle.”
Members & their guests formed a “daytripper” population along the river that would eventually bring hotels, saloons and trains that spawned other early fishing villages like our own “Fort St. Davids” (near where the Falls Bridge is now).
But these Castle guys were first, and they really went for it, too: they drew up all kinds of official documents declaring governor, three counselors, a treasurer, a secretary of state, a sheriff and a coroner (“to hold an inquest upon any suspected meat, fish or other provisions“). They even had their own Army and Navy — well, a cannon and two boats. But still!
Even today, their Andalusia club (they moved the Castle and everything!) upholds these honorary titles and “the pleasant fiction” of their ersatz sovereignty. Sure, they’re kidding around. But they’ve been kidding around for 285 years! They’re the oldest continually-operating club in the world (stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Beefsteak of London, who technically was first in 1705 but they were defunct for 20 years, ha).
Thomas Mifflin was a founding member, and Lafayette an elected officer. And good old George Washington was kind of a mascot — he didn’t officially belong, but he was out there all the time, drinking and barbecuing. He even had a favorite drink: Fish House Punch!
In 18th century Philadelphia, every fine drinking club and establishment had its own special alcoholic concoction based upon a basic recipe sailors seem to have picked up from West Indies trade routes: lemon/lime, sugar, water, spice and rum (or alcohols of choice).
And word around town was our “Fish House” boys mixed some KILLER punch! And they served it rather dramatically, as well. A visiting diplomat from Virginia recounted club members in 1744 greeting him fondly with an ornate bowl of punch big enough for “a dozen geese” to swim.
George Washington had oftentimes been presented with the same enormous punch bowl, from which partygoers would join him in toasting glass after glass. The story goes that on a visit to the State in Schuylkill (renamed after the Revolution) in 1787, President George Washington enjoyed so much Fish House Punch he couldn’t bring himself to make an entry in his diary for three days!
So get ripped like a Revolutionary this July 4th — if you don’t have a giant bowl for your Fish House Punch, may we suggest the following substitute: Here’s the Original Fish House Punch recipe:
A decent batch consists of:
30 limes, cut in half and squeezed, such pulp as gets through is fine
15 lemons, treat as above
This constitutes a “part” for measuring the rest of the ingredients:
1 part dark rum
2 parts light rum… Use a reasonable quality, these are friends you will be poisoning so treat them well
1 part brandy
1 part brown sugar
1 part water, in the form of a block of ice
Put sugar into a suitable container that has a tight lid. Gently work the citrus into the sugar until wetted out and then add the rest of the ingredients.
Ease the ice into the container gently as we do not want to waste any of this precious stuff! Gently “bail” the mix over the ice, cap it and repeat this every couple of hours until time to serve it.
This is the most important part: do the preparation and mixing early in the morning the day of the party and mix the ingredients every few hours to “mellow” them together into what will be a most refreshing punch. It is most proper to sample the batch each time it is mixed, to monitor the manner in which the materials are melding together.
And here’s a lower-alcohol version we’ll be bringing with us to a family BBQ this weekend (seems less likely to require three days’ recovery time):
Fish House Punch for Amateurs
750ml bottle light rum
750ml bottle dark rum
750ml bottle applejack
2-3 cups simple syrup
2-3 cups lemon juice (about 14 lemons)
3-4 cups unsweetened iced tea
3-4 cups apple cider
Simply combine your ingredients in a vessel large enough to hold them as well as a large block of ice. Give the concoction a stir, and share with your friends.
Cheers from EastFallsHouse.com!