No Victorian Christmas party was complete without a gleaming punch bowl full of inhibition-removing deliciousness. In richer households, these bowls would be silver or silver gilt, with matching chased cups and ladle, in middle class houses cut glass or crystal was offered, whilst lower down the social pecking order china, wood or pewter was most often used.
The tradition of Punches, although at their height during the 18th and 19th centuries, could well have emerged from an even earlier tradition, one of which dates back to Saxon times, and perhaps earlier; the Wassail cup. This was a communal vessel, passed around a party to the shouts of ‘wes þú hál’ old English for ‘good health’ or ‘be healthy’ and was often brought out during Yule or Christmastide, filled with warm spiced ale, mead or more usually cider, it was also drunk to bless the orchards and ensure a successful harvest.
Mulled Wine also has much older roots too, Roman and medieval Europe offered wine sweetened with honey and spices known by the name ‘Hippocras’ which was often served warmed in the colder months – the spices were placed in a conical strainer and steeped in the wine – the name derived from famed Greek physician Hippocrates who is said to have invented the strainer to filter water.
1 bottle good red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
40g root ginger, peeled and sliced
40g brown sugar
1 orange sliced
1 cardamom, crushed
Gently warm all the ingredients together in a heavy pan – careful not to boil!
Wassail (Cider Cup)
1 litre still cider (or scrumpy if you’re brave enough!)
50ml Apple brandy (calvados)
50g honey (depending on personal taste and type of cider used)
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
15g root ginger peeled and grated
2 star anise
2 dessert apples, sliced
Mull the ingredients together over a low heat to allow the flavours to infuse and serve with a cinnamon stick
An 18th century Fruit Punch Recipe
Peel six lemons and, using a pestle and mortar or strong bowl and the end of a rolling pin muddle in 375g white sugar and leave to sit for a couple of hours.
Juice the peeled lemons and set the juice aside
Pour 500ml of dark rum into a jug or bowl, add 250ml of brandy and 1.5 litres of water. Add the lemon juice, sugar and lemon, then leave for a further two hours before straining and serving with lots of ice