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GP 5 July 2006: Fish House Punch

Celebrating the Fourth.  We haul out the usual array of delights for the Fourth—corn on the cob and hot dogs, a dip in a cool stream, a timid patch of fireworks, and remembered moments of the Tall Ships on the Hudson, the Statute of Liberty, and the Empire State Building festooned with bright lights during the Bicentennial back in 1976.  Our reading goes to tawdry biographies and witty novels, well removed from the periodicals and media fare that chops up our daily life. 

Of course, we slipped in some oddities, such as Lavender-Skewered Shrimp in Lemon, Olive, Oil and Garlic, given our new very consuming interest in all that the spices of the world have to offer us.  And to inoculate ourselves against Patriotic Gore, we poured over history to find a drink that would bring our spirits up to the occasion. 

Fish House Punch.  Eric Felten trills about a “Raspberry Rum Shrub” in “Barbecue’s Best July 4 Beverage,” Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2006, another one of those drinks put together for people who can’t stand the taste of likker.  It’s a silly drink, all of a piece with that new cuisine out of California full of minced, bad fruit that disguises the taste of the organic chicken, or loin of pork on your plate.  Martha Washington, wife of our first president, had her own punch that had a little of “this” and a little of “that,” which she offered up every year on July the fourth.  Neither drink would help us win our independence. 

We recommend Fish House Punch, which is a devil of a lot more lethal.  We understand that it was actually the favorite of our First Father, and we find that some have even named if after him. 

George Washington's Fish House Punch
From the recipe collection of Drs. Ann and A.J. Thomas

This punch was the specialty of the Fish House Club on the Schuykill River near Philadelphia.  History has it that George Washington, as one of the founders of the club, introduced the members to this, his favorite punch. 

In a large punch bowl dissolver 3/4 pound of sugar in one quart of water.
Then add:
1 quart of lemon juice
2 quarts of dark Jamaican Rum
1 quart of brandy
4 oz of peach brandy
Place a large block of ice in the mixture and allow to brew for about two hours, stirring occasionally. (from the Allison Glass Works)

The Fish House Club, a.k.a The Colony in Schuylkill (1732), a.k.a. The State in Schuylkill (1783).  “It seems impossible, incredible, but Philadelphia possesses the oldest existing club organization in the world, at least of those whose members speak the English language.  It was founded in 1732…” (The Fish House Club). We understand that it has moved to the Delaware, near Andalusia, on the way to Bristol.  Some accounts say George Washington was a founder, and all are sure that this was his favorite punch, when he was out of Martha’s hearing. 

For Great National Holidays.  We learn from George Washington Parke Curtis that this punch is, in fact, the only way to celebrate great national holidays.  See The Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, Benson J. Lossing, ed. (New York, 1859), 129-30: 

On the great national days of the fourth of July and twenty-second of February, the salute from the then head of Market street (Eighth street) announced the opening of the levee. Then was seen the venerable corps of the Cincinnati marching to pay their respects to their president-general, who received them at headquarters and in the uniform of the commander-in-chief....  [Each veteran] gave in no name—he required no ceremony of introduction—but, making his way to the family parlor, opened the general gratulation by the first welcome of Robert Morris. 

A fine volunteer corps, called the light-infantry, from the famed light-infantry of the Revolutionary army, commanded by Lafayette, mounted a guard of honor on the national days.  When it was about to close, the soldiers, headed by their sergeants, marched with trailed arms and noiseless step through the hall to a spot where huge bowls of punch had been prepared for their refreshment, when, after quaffing a deep carouse, with three hearty cheers to the health of the president, they countermarched to the street, the bands struck up the favorite air, “forward” was the word, and the levee was ended. 

Farewell to the Troops.  Historians have always painted George Washington for us as if he were a monument before he died, a little vapid and lifeless.  That may be the case, but at least he knew how to say goodbye: 

At the close of the Revolutionary War, Washington hosted a “Farewell” to his troops and to the French troops who helped the Continental Army.

Fish House Punch
Crab Claws w/Dill Mustard Sauce Pate Maison Fraunces
Cheddar Biscuits
Sorrel Soup w/Sippets
Cold Poached Striped Bass w/Cucumber Sauce
White Wine
Mushroom Pastry Beefsteak and Kidney Pie
Roasted Lamb w/Oyster Forcemeat Baked, smoked Country Ham
Madeira molded Wine Jelly Yam and Chestnut Pippins Pilau of Rice Ragoo French Beans
Skillet Cranberries
Watermelon Pickles Pear Honey
Sally Lunn Molded Butter Prints
Carrot Tea Cake Tipsy Squire Tansy Pie
Whiskey Nut Balls Chocolate Truffles
Apples Hazelnuts Pears Almonds Grapes
Tobacco Coffee Madeira Port (Collectible Meals

Clearly, he could give Washingtonians, of the present day, a few lessons in entertaining.  Sumptuous grand celebrations were long a matter of course in cities across the nation on the Fourth—with 13-gun salutes, 13-course dinners, and 13 toasts to freedom. 

In Verse.  Fish House Punch has been celebrated in verse, and we would expect, in years to come, that it will become the subject of song: 

There's a little place just out of town,
Where, if you go to lunch,
They'll make you forget your mother-in-law
With a drink called Fish-House Punch. (The Cook,1885) 

The Liberation of Philadelphia.  As we have said elsewhere, Philadelphia is a magnificent town that has ceased to live up to its promise.  We hope for a revival of the cradle of liberty—and of Liberty itself around the country.  The Liberty Bell’s there.  And the memory of Franklin, the lightning rod of the Revolution.  Philadelphia scrapple.  And a club with some punch.  Now its citizenry is somber, tight-laced, and repressed. Under a shadow. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer.  But the Liberty Bell may be ringing again.  A local investor group, headed by Brian P. Tierney, has purchased the local papers from the McClatchy Company for $562 million: 

The buyers include Tierney, who will be Philadelphia Media’s chief executive; investor Bruce E. Toll, who owns auto dealerships and other businesses and will be the company’s chairman; Leslie E. Brun, chief executive of Sarr Group, a holding company; Katharine D. Crothall, founder of Animas Corp., a medical device manufacturer recently sold to Johnson & Johnson; Bill Graham, chief executive of The Graham Co., a Philadelphia insurance brokerage; Michael Hagen, chairman and chief executive of NutriSystem Inc. in Horsham; Patricia Harron Imbesi, principal of Patriarch Media L.L.C. in North Wales; Aramark Corp. chairman Joseph Neubauer; and the Carpenters Pension & Annuity Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity.  These investors and others will provide up to $200 million of the price, according to an adviser to the group. 

This is a most encouraging development for newspaperdom, since daily papers across the country have been shrinking and dying.  One of the keys to their revival is local ownership, which puts people in the driver’s seat who know and love the community where a paper is seated.  Philadelphia, incidentally, is a leader in municipally owned wireless, another media development that is vital to America’s economy and freedom. 

Blocks of Ice.  We are at our Third World (one of the less fortunate states) home, and the key ingredient we were missing for our Fish House Punch was a block of ice.  It’s not available, so we have had to improvise on the fly.  But the 4th was merry as we brought together a bunch of ex-pats to toast our country, even here, far from the halls of liberty.  All left the party sorely wounded. 

P.S.  There are many nebulous sources on Fish House Punch, most of which we have not been able to obtain.  If you are lucky, you may lay your hands on Muriel Lembeck’s review of Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers, and Spirits.  As well, we hear that the Philadelphia Cookbook of Town and Country is useful.  And for those of you who can deal with microfiche, the New York Times did something on it on July 1, 1956, though it left out the cognac.  The recipe above simply mentioned brandy, but our drinks consigliore insists on cognac. 

P.P.S.  Of course, everything under the sun is attributed to Washington.  As you know, he slept around—practically everywhere.  We can remember a house on Old Army Road where he was supposed to have put up for the night. 

P.P.P.S.  We have warned you off California’s fruity cooking.  In a few weeks, we will give you a caution about Chicago’s Alinea, which sprays scientific cuisine at you.

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