Cocktail History in America: The Punch Bowl (Pre-1806)
A Bowl, Full of Punch History
The cocktail's roots are in a communal tradition: the punch bowl. By the traveling the globe in exploration, had a pretty great concoction going. A combination of spirits, sugar, water, citrus, and spices, "punch" was something that could be made in any port and on board just about any ship that was transporting goods from the East Indies (and later, the West Indies/Caribbean, depending on the century or your preference for terminology). Beer went flat in the hot temperatures, but just about anywhere a ship landed, there was a local spirit made from some ingredient (sugar, rice, fruit, etc.), a form of citrus on hand, and some new spice to try. Sailors brought this concept home and punches gained popularity in Europe and eventually in America.
A punch originally included only five ingredients, which varied by location and availability: spirits, sugar, water, citrus, and spice. However, in the nearly three centuries since it took hold, the definition, the ingredients, and the making of punches have continued to expand.
Suggested Readings (Beyond Special Collections)
- Wondrich, David. Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. TarcherPerigee, 2010.
- You can also find classic American punch recipes in many 19th, 20th, and 21st century cookbooks and recipe books, both handwritten and printed.
Special Collections Culinary Links
From Knox Gelatine: Desserts, Salads, Candies and Frozen Dishes, c.1936
- History of Food & Drink Manuscript Collections
- Digitized Manuscript Collections
- Digitized Books
- What's Cookin' @Special Collections (blog)
- About the History of Food & Drink collecting area
- History of Food & Drink LibGuide
- Infant, Child, & Family Nutrition Resources LibGuide
- Cocktail History in America LibGuide
About Special Collections
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