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Fish House Punch Will F@#% You Up

December 22, 2010

This year, Chris and I had our not-quite-annual Solstice Party. It was last night.

We spent a long time deciding what beverages to serve.

“No one likes wassail, not even you,”  he said This was in reference to my many efforts to re-create an authentic wassail. I read once in a culinary history book that original wassail is a combination of ale and wine, mulled. I don’t recommend it, and I am not going to make it that way ever again, although the Velvet Cup continues to intrigue me.

Eggnog? Of course! How not?

Mulled wine? Honestly, I don’t like it that much.

Hot spiced cider? Definitely.  And, although it does benefit from the addition of Applejack, it’s a great non-alcoholic beverage to serve at parties.

Chris is a great bartender and planned to serve mixed drinks. This is the secret to what makes our parties fun, but in addition to the made-to-order, I wanted to add something festive, and potent.

We looked through our drink guides — plenty of ideas but nothing was quite what I wanted.  Something kept tickling the back of my brain.

Fish House Punch.

It falls under the category of Things I Know That I Don’t Know That I Know. The unknown knowns.

I googled, of course, and got a ton of history and several promising recipes. I read them.

“That’s not right,” I said over and over again. It should have X, or Y, or different proportions, or different ingredients.

Why on earth is there a recipe for Fish House Punch in my brain? It’s not on the whiteboard of things I’ve forgotten. It’s a recipe I definitely know — how else can I read a recipe and say, “No, not that. This!” It’s in there somehow. But how?

Is it one I learned from my grandmother?  I don’t think so.  I have vague memories of her talking about Fish House Punch, and I think the phrases “never again” and “drove the car into a tree” were involved somehow.

I dug deeper into the recesses of memory. Something about the Phi Sci fraternity at Swarthmore College, or more likely the University of Pennsylvania, and a bowl of punch with lemon slices floating in it. I remember a blue sweater I used to wear, one that belonged to a friend of mine, but that was fabulously flattering on me, and that I borrowed sometimes when we went to parties. I have a vague memory of someone telling me that the State burned down a few years ago, back then, which it did, it turns out, and that his father was a member of that ancient club, a citizen, and that he knew the recipe, and then told me what it was.

Memory is unreliable. This much has been proven. We invent and imagine in equal proportions and call it memory.

And yet, the evidence stands. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is the recipe for Fish House Punch, with the feeling that it’s the real one, and that it is a secret, and somehow I am privy to it. Did some young buck, 24 years ago, give it to me for the price of a smile, and maybe a kiss on the cheek?

Why, when so much of what I have learned over the course of half a lifetime has faded, did that stick?  What other secrets are lurking, locked in the recesses of my psyche?

Is it the real recipe? It’s close enough to what I could discover with a quick internet search. Studying culinary history makes me think that my recipe is a likely contender for authentic.  Who is to know for sure except the few aging men who are members of the Schukyll Fishing Company, and they are not telling.

Chris was unenthusiastic. Anything that smacks of elitism, of exclusion, of restricting good things to a privileged few is anathema to him. “Make your punch, but leave me out of it,” he said. And so I did. And we served it last night, with the caveat that it will f@ck you up.

Our guests were at first surprised at my choice of language, but then they said, “Yes, it will.”

It’s good stuff, and it does make for a good party.  Several people asked me for the recipe.

I don’t know how I know it, but I do know that I promised to keep it a secret. It’s very similar to what you can find online.

From → Cooking

  1. Mary Knapp permalink

    We made it once, and only once, because it’s so difficult to track down one of the ingredients. We served it at a party. I don’t remember much else…

    • Mom, that makes it more likely that the recipe buried in the recesses of my mind is yours. The hard-to-track-down ingredient is apricot brandy, and most definitely not artificial-apricot-flavored bad brandy. I used apricot eau-de-vie.

  2. David Coale permalink

    Yours was very good. I tried it once myself, did a lousy job, and got a poor explanation from the otherwise-brilliant Eric Felten about what I did wrong. Congrats!

  3. Mary Knapp permalink

    The recipe I used said “one wine glass full of apricot brandy.” That’s the only measure I remember,.

    • I think, then, Mom and Dad, that yours is the recipe I am thinking of.

      It went like this:

      2 quarts strong black tea
      2 quarts Jamaican rum
      1 quart cognac
      1 pint fresh lemon juice
      2 1/2 cups sugar
      1 wine glass full of apricot brandy I (I measured a scant pint)

      I also made mine with a della robbia wreath that included cranberries, grapes, strawberries, meyer lemon leaves and rose leaves, which may have contributed something.

      It was good; better, in fact, that I anticipated.

      • Mary Knapp permalink

        And now the world, at least your RSS world, knows. Salud!

  4. Mary Knapp permalink

    That sounds like it! That means you were old enough to read or be conscious of goings on in the kitchen and too young to let it interfere with your memory. Well done! I would love to have tasted it.

  5. Rachel permalink

    What a great story.

    But I must say I love your eggnog recipe too. You should post it. I made it for friends at some random time of year when the Bryn Mawr cookbook recipes were being tested. I thought about making some this year, but I’m not having a large enough party to justify the amount of alcohol involved.

  6. Holly permalink

    Your fish house punch recipe sounds more delicious than the only fish house punch I’ve ever had, which was at the Union League in Philly on New Year’s Day. (I think theirs has cheap whiskey in it.) And I agree, that’s a cold drink that will definitely heat people up! I love your della robbia wreath idea, too. I will be borrowing your recipe.

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