Peter White Punch: A practical application, by Pam Christensen

According to the book The Honorable Peter White, no visit to the White home was complete without a toast of Peter White Punch. There are a variety of recipes for the punch, but all contain the same basic ingredients, some of which can be a challenge to procure today.

The production of the punch reminds me of the garbage can parties we used to have at Western Michigan University. Each person attending brought an ingredient, usually liquor or fruit, to dump into the garbage can. As the evening and tasting proceeded, the punch tasted better and better. Unfortunately, it did pack a morning-after punch. I don’t think the aging of the mixture improved its taste; I think it was the accumulated affect of the alcohol.
The Peter White Public Library held its first Volunteer, Staff and Donor Appreciation Party on April 18. It seemed only fitting that Peter White Punch be served. As library folks are prone to do, we scoured the various recipes for Peter White Punch and determined which one to use. Then it was off to gather the ingredients—easier said than done.0806lop
The recipe calls for three dozen good lemons cut in the middle and squeezed into the receptacle, skins and all. That was not as difficult as determining what size of receptacle was needed for the quantity of punch we would be mixing.
The recipe calls for eight quarts of liquor, Apolinais water, strong English breakfast tea and sugar. The liquor is the biggest challenge, and we had help from staff at White’s Party Store, the Vineyard and Blue Link Party Store. Apparently, Peter White Punch ingredients are not everyday fare at any of our local liquor stores.
The recipe calls for two types of rum—Jamaican and Santa Cruz. Rum is made from the fermentation of molasses, a by-product of sugar production from sugar cane. Rum is a frequently-used base for many types of alcoholic punches. The array of rums at any liquor store boggles the mind. There are all types from all parts of the Caribbean, all flavors and colors. Jamaican rums are made with molasses and are full-bodied and strongly flavored. It is not difficult to locate several varieties of Jamaican and Santa Cruz rum. We breezed through that part of the ingredient list by using Myers’s Original Dark Jamaican Rum and a quart of Bacardi. One light and one dark for balance.
One quart of brandy also is required for the recipe. We had no trouble selecting a brandy—based on bottle shape and mid-range price. We are not brandy connoisseurs, but did like the unique shape of the E&J brandy bottle.
It was fun to select the Blue Curacao Liqueur. Blue Curacao originally was made on the Dutch Antilles island of Curacao, but is now made all over the world. It is a popular ingredient of many colorful drinks with even more colorful names. Once again basing our selection on bottle shape and vivid color, we chose Bols, bottled in Louisville (Kentucky).
The first stumbling block in our punch adventure came as we searched the shelves for Chartreuse. We had no idea what this was. Chartreuse is not easy to come by, we found. There was one bottle at the Vineyard. We placed a second bottle on order, since we were doubling the batch, but found out that the Michigan Liquor Commission was completely sold out of this herbal liquor. Our concoction was one bottle shy of Chartreuse. Next year we will begin the hunt for Chartreuse months in advance. Chartreuse is a strongly-flavored liquor that is comprised of a secret formula of 130 herbs and spices. It can be green or yellow in color. The original recipe for the liquor was touted as an “Elixir for Long Life” and was presented to the Carthusian fathers in their monastery in Vauvert (France) in 1605. Green Chartreuse, which we used, is 110 proof—or fifty-five percent alcohol. It can be served alone over ice, added as an ingredient to other cocktails or used as a mixer.
Chartreuse has a long and fascinating history, as well as a literary past. Reference to the drink is made in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and in John Updike’s short story “Domestic Life in America.”
We could not find Maraschino, which is liquor made from the marascea cherry and crushed pits. This Italian liqueur is processed much like brandy and then combined with pure cane syrup, aged and filtered. The result is a sweet cherry-infused liquor with hints of almond from the crushed pits. True maraschino cherries are made by soaking cherries in unadulterated Maraschino liquor, not by using corn syrup, red dye and artificial ingredients. A search for Maraschino on the Internet reveals that the liquor is not available in Pennsylvania or Washington State. Apparently, it is not a hot item in Michigan either. We substituted a quart of Maraschino cherry juice, which caused the punch to taste like a potent cough medicine—a substitution that will not be repeated.
We were unsure about Apolinais Water, but discovered it was a sparkling mineral water. A shopping trip to Super One actually resulted in an appropriate number of bottles labeled “the original Apolinais water.” You can’t get any better than that.
The strong English breakfast tea and sugar were routine and rather boring after the aforementioned hunting and gathering. Not too hard for a librarian with an office already filled with liquors of various origin, nationality, color and pedigree.
The real fun began on Friday afternoon, because the recipe states that the ingredients should be mixed two or three hours in advance. Library staff started the mixing using a huge Gott cooler. The smell of alcohol permeated the administration office area and attracted a number of observers. Getting close to the mixture resulted in lightheadedness even without a sip. We let the mixture cure for several hours and hoped it would not eat through the cooler. The result was a purple mixture—not the pale pink we had been told to expect.
Just before the party, we added the Apolinais water, sugar, English breakfast tea and champagne, so the mixture would sparkle and fizz. Thinly sliced oranges and lemons also were added to the mix. The purple color remained intense, despite the addition of other ingredients. The punch continued to smell very strong and taste somewhat like cough medicine.
The novelty of Peter White Punch encouraged most party-goers to try a small sip or two. The syrupy nature of the drink kept everyone from over imbibing, which probably was a good thing. I found the mixture improved with the addition of an equal part of Shiraz wine. The wine cut the cough syrup sweet and made the punch much easier to drink. According to Peter White, the mixture, when tightly corked, will last for months. Luckily this is the case, since it takes months of planning and ordering to acquire the necessary ingredients for another batch.
We plan to make punch next year—using all of the required ingredients and perhaps reducing the amount of sugar. For authentic punch, I may have to start now in an effort to procure the correct ingredients as endorsed by Peter White. Anyone want to join me visiting Jamaica, France, the Dutch Antilles, Italy and Puerto Rico?
—Pam Christensen

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