On Punch

I can gladly say that my childhood memories are cheerily replete with home-made punch. Growing up, the making of punch was one of the rituals that signified a grand occasion. We had punch at birthdays, Christmas brunches, parties. I remember the alchemic and exciting process that allowed this to happen: the preparation of cold tea; its being stored in the fridge in a familiar brown jug with a melted lid; the gathering of mint. And, of course, the sourcing of the mono-functional punch bowl. This glass archaism graced our gatherings like the words of advice of a great-grandmother: somewhat dated and out of place, but provoking love and nostalgia.

Suffice to say, my adolescent and post-adolescent experiences of punch have been less good. In the heathen wilderness of teenaged identity-making, what passed for punch could be as simple and vulgar as some carbonated fruit juice mixed with cheap vodka. Unfortunately, things haven’t improved with age. Every 21st these days, it seems, is in a bitter race to the bottom to see how over-sweet, alcoholic, and insipid a concoction can be before people will no longer call it punch. Sadly, this race seems to have no finishing line.

Last night, at a 21st, I was galled beyond reason by a particularly disappointing punch. Bringing a few friends in to this discussion, I was dismayed horrified, to find that my ideas for what constituted good punch were apparently anachronistic. One friend of mine, it transpires, is a beverage relativist, who uses Wittgenstein’s ‘Family of Concepts‘ idea to explain away the woeful preponderance of ghastly punches that are poisoning our youth and hampering human potential Australia over. 

I tried to restore some sanity to the discussion, suggesting we think about punch in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. In hindsight, this didn’t help. But it did lead to some astonishing relevations. The beverage relativist came out with the jaw-dropping suggestion that punch can be constituted by as little as (1) fruit juice, (2) alcohol, (3) fruity bits. Exposing this by reductio ad absurdum, we can surely agree that a vodka screwdriver with a grape in it is not ‘punch’, even though it meets the three conditions. Another friend of mine was somewhat more cultured, adding (4) lemonade. We were now approaching something close to what a well-heeled socialite might serve to their less-well-heeled guests if they were already blind drunk, but I was still struggling with the insistence that punch must contain alcohol. My childhood memories featured many a non-alcoholic punch and, indeed, as a sober sort of fellow, I do like to take the part of mocktail culture, constantly besieged as it is by its ethanoic oppressors.

Turning to wikipedia, I’m beginning to feel glad I didn’t dig my heels in too strongly and make a fool of myself. According to the online encyclopedia (clearly a beverage relativist itself), punch:

“is the term for a wide assortment of drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic, generally containing fruit or fruit juice.”

While the recognition of non-alcoholic punches is a welcome step forward, it is clear that our erstwhile friend Wikipedia is not offering the world direction in this regard.

Thus, for the betterment of humours and human vitality, I offer you, a Scit Necessitas exclusive:

Punch à la Dignam

NB – recipe is provided verbatim “from the horse’s mouth”.

I do not have a recipe, but can give you the basic ingredients of our punch, and from there I am guided by instinct and my tasters! and the vessel size!

  • Cold black tea, premade and chilled
  • 1 orange mango juice concentrate, Home brand or similar. Other flavours of juice concentrate can also be used.
  • Dry ginger ale
  • Lemonade
  • Fruit juice, usually orange
  • Ice cubes
  • Mint, orange/lemon slices etc etc

I start by pouring in some tea, maybe 1/3 to 1/2  juice concentrate, then equal ginger ale and lemonade for fizz. Ginger gives the tang, lemonade the sweetness.You do not want the tea to be particularly noticeable.Quantity of tea is slightly less than the ginger ale and lemonade.

Taste, then add fruit juice as necessary. Often some more fizz is required too. Squeeze of lemon also nice.


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