Rembrandt, Vermeer and Steen emerged to lead the Dutch Masters, a school of influential painters.
Benedict Spinoza developed his pantheistic philosophy that everything in existence is part of an all-encompassing God. The visiting French philosopher/mathematician Rene Descartes did most of his defining work in providing a philosophical framework for the natural sciences while living in Holland.
The scientists Van Leewenhoek and Hugens pioneered in cell biology and the microscope, working in the city of Delft, where local craftsmen developed the famous pottery ceramics style as an evolution of Chinese porcelain being imported at the time.
But not all the outpouring of energy went to high-blown intellectual pursuits. The needs of the spirit and the stomach were tended to as well.
One particular drink was punch, in the past a perfectly acceptable drink but today largely out of fashion. However, that can be slightly alleviated by taking notice of National Punch Day, which falls this year on Thursday, September 22.
Punch originated as a drink in what we once called the Far East — 16th-century India in particular — which is where the Dutch, and later the English, merchant sailors were exposed to it. The Dutch settlers introduced the drink to the New World, and because it was an English staple that particular drink of choice was reinforced when the Brits hit these shores.
However, most of us became aware of it at family holiday gatherings or at college keggers where a fruit juice mixture or ginger ale was spiked with whatever the local scamps could afford to invigorate the communal bowl.
In the mid-18th-century, entertaining took on a much more innovative feel. The ubiquitous punch bowls were filled with every manner of concoction, some going well beyond the five basic ingredients of punch (the name is derivative of the Hindi word panch, for five — alcohol, water, sugar, juice and spice).
One particularly memorable recipe was for something called “Norfolk Punch No. 1.” The recipe: “20 quarts of French brandy, peels of 30 lemons and 30 oranges, 30 quarts of cold water, 15 pounds of double refined sugar, the juice of the oranges and 24 of the lemons. Mix well and strain into a very clean barrel that has held spirits and put in 2 quarts of new milk. Store and then bung it closed.’”
Of course, not every recipe was so intricate. A mid-1700s recipe for something called “Cherry Bounce” required just “5 pints of mashed cherries combined with 1 quart of dark rum, and then sweetened to taste with brown sugar.”
As with nearly any drink, there were personal touches, too, such as the suggestion that, “One may give it a delicious softness by the addition of a pint of calves-foot jelly.”
And, as in all things alcoholic, the absence of moderation in punch consumption could cause problems. For example, research at the Albany (NY) Institute of History & Art uncovered a report, on a March 1801 funeral for one Volckert Petrus Douw supplied refreshments for mourners who “imbibed so freely of the delicious concoction … with spices in a keg” that they had to be transported home on ox-sleds.
Punch today usually is reserved for festive occasions. Recipes are as numerous as toadstools after a rainy spell. Some, I’m sure, are delightful, but many I’ve sampled are, to put it charitably, hideous.
Here’s the recipe my wife uses for a successful punch. She’s been serving it for more than 20 years to soothe irascible in-laws during interminable sleepover visits, which makes it good enough for me. By the way, it not only tastes great, it contains five basic ingredients, the basis of all true punches.
OPEN HOUSE PUNCH
(Makes 32 servings)
1 (750-milliliter) bottle Southern Comfort
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
6-ounce can frozen lemonade
6-ounce can frozen orange juice
3 quarts lemon-lime soda
Red food coloring (optional)
Chill the soda and soften the frozen lemonade and orange juice. Mix Southern Comfort and lemon juice in a punch bowl. Spoon in the softened concentrates and add the soda.
Add several drops of red food dye and stir. Float a ring or block of ice (you can suspend maraschino cherries in the ice for eye appeal) in the mixture.
Garnish with orange and lemon slices.
Here’s another, dreamed up by the makers of Ketel One vodka and Zacapa rum.
(Makes 30 servings)
1 (750 ml) bottle Ketel One Oranje Flavored Vodka
½ 750 ml bottle Zacapa 23 Rum
½ 750 ml bottle Tanqueray 10 Gin
15 ounces fresh lime juice
15 ounces orgeat
Dash of grenadine
Combine vodka, rum, gin, lime juice, orgeat and grenadine in a large punch bowl. Stir until evenly mixed. Ladle into a small rocks glass with ice and garnish with cinnamon.
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