Cocktail Week: A Hot Punch to the Face

I love hot drinks: coffee, tea, cider, cocoa. Serving a hot drink in a pretty mug is a sure way to welcome guests to an autumn or winter party. And as the weather turns…well, milder (this is still Florida after all), I find myself turning on my electric kettle regularly. 

Click here to skip down to the recipe

So I was excited to see this recipe for “Hot Punch” included in the recipe suggestions post by Kristin to lead off Cocktail Week! The photos above contain the recipe as it was recorded in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861 (the volume in our collection is a first edition). Below, you’ll see the book’s title page, along with a picture of Mrs. Beeton from 1854. This was a groundbreaking book, said to allow anyone to manage “all things connected with home life and comfort,” and it set the standard for English housekeeping. 

I will not comment on the epigraph — “Nothing lovelier can be found / In Woman, than to study household good” — other than to say that my partner and I share household duties and I’m still lovely, THANK YOU. 

Here is a transcription of the original recipe for Hot Punch: 

“1839. INGREDIENTS. -- ½ pint of rum, ½ pint of brandy, ¼ lb. of sugar, 1 large lemon, ½ teaspoonful of nutmeg, 1 pint of boiling water. 
Mode. -- Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon-juice (free from pips), and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making good punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and, to insure success, the processes of mixing must be diligently attended to."

She then recommends how much to make (a quart for 4 persons) and gives a lovely little history of punch. Punch was a big deal in the 19th century, but had started to fade in popularity at this time, according to Mrs. Beeton: “Punch, which was almost universally drunk among the middle classes about fifty or sixty years ago, has almost disappeared from our domestic tables, being superseded by wine.” She goes on to comment on the wide varieties of punch in existence, and a quick look at auction houses and other sites shows that punch bowls, like that depicted in the illustration of Mrs. Beeton’s book, came in all shapes and sizes.

photo of an ornate silver punch bowl
An American Silver Repousse Punch Bowl, Late 19th/early 20th Century.

Here is my version of the recipe with modifications. I’m adapting the recipe and only making half, as it’s a Thursday night and we don’t need to drink an entire party’s worth of punch: 

Adapted Recipe, written out and then promptly spilled on.

Modified Recipe, HOT PUNCH:
4 oz rum
4 oz brandy
2 oz sugar
1/2 a lemon’s zest
1/2 a lemon’s juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz boiling water

Mrs. Beeton’s sugar would have been sold in lumps, and the recipe calls for you to use a sugar lump to sort of sand the zest off of the lemon. I tried this, unsuccessfully, with granulated sugar, and eventually gave in and got out my zester/microplaner.

Then I rubbed the sugar and zest together to make a very fragrant lemon-sugar that would be delicious sprinkled on blueberries. 

Then I added the lemon juice and whisked until the sugar, zest, and juice were combined. Boiled water came next, which seemed to do a great job of melting down the sugar. Then rum brandy, and nutmeg, and a good stir — and voila! Hot Punch!

Here’s a quick snippet of me tasting it: 

Obviously, I mean a Zoom party at the moment.

It is STRONG. I think a small mug would do. This tastes so much like a hot toddy, just rum & brandy instead of whiskey: lemony, boozy, and hot. And very sweet. The sugar really hides the amount of alcohol you’re consuming, which could be a problem. Brandy is also not an ingredient we had on hand. I had to buy it especially for this recipe, but I do like the flavor that it imparts when mixed with rum. I think I’d probably strain this if I make it again, as the nutmeg settled at the bottom and made for a nasty last swig. 

As for making a mocktail version of the Hot Punch: I thought and thought, and frankly, alcohol-free hot drinks are kind of my thing; believe me when I say you should just make yourself a different fancy hot drink. Have a hot cider with a splash of caramel syrup, or a hot chocolate with foamed milk and a pinch of cinnamon. If you’re ill, a hot tea with that lemon sugar and some cinnamon and nutmeg might have a similar flavor? Who knows, give it a try!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Would be a fun drink for cooler weather, but beware: It’s stronger than you think. Thanks, Mrs. Beeton! – Rachel Duke

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