Nineteenth Century: Roman Punch

By • November 9, 2010 • 17 Comments



Author Notes: There was a time -- when turtle soup was a luxury dish and whiskey was an acceptable morning pick-me-up -- when garnishing an icy-cold drink with dollop of meringue seemed perfectly normal. And why not? The meringue floats on the surface like a regal, mysterious iceberg. As you mix it in, the sugar and whites add a touch of cream to what's otherwise a traditional sweet, boozy punch. Although this one does not, many Roman punch recipes instruct you to freeze the mixture before serving, presumably so it gets nice and slushy before receiving its meringue cap. Roman punch was served as an intermezzo at society parties and at the White House during Rutherford B. Hayes's presidency. Hayes and his wife, who was known as "Lemonade Lucy," were temperance advocates, and to get around their strictures -- the rumor was -- someone in the kitchen devised the spiked sorbet, which was served to guests. By 1922, the drink was declared passé by Emily Post. This recipe comes from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and appeared in the Times in 1879.Amanda Hesser

Makes 6 to 8 drinks

  • 2 cups lemonade
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • 8 ounces Champagne
  • 8 ounces rum
  • 2 large egg whites
  • A few drops lemon juice
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  1. Stir together the lemonade, orange juice, Champagne, and rum in a punch bowl. Chill.
  2. When ready to serve, make the meringue: whip the egg whites and lemon juice in a medium bowl until they hold soft peaks, then gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar. Pile into a serving bowl.
  3. Fill punch cups with ice, ladle over the punch, and top each with a dollop of meringue. Serve with cocktail stirrers.
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Comments (17) Questions (0)

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over 1 year ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I now know how I'm kicking off Sunday night Oscar watching!

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over 3 years ago Audrey Roberts

I love my NY Times Cookbook its like sleeping with your Bible, because there is always a passage like this one to lament over and use for worship. Thanks!

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over 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Thanks Audrey!

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over 3 years ago Sasha (Global Table Adventure)

Isn't it funny how food is just like fashion - in one year and passé the next. Since I'm a lightweight, I'd skimp on the rum ... but the flavor combination sounds heavenly. Such a nice change of pace from the usual goodies.

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over 3 years ago brixton

We made this cocktail at our monthly baking/brunch this morning - it was a little too overwhelmingly boozy, even with a meal, and the meringue, while tasty, didn't win me over. I wish we'd seen Amanda's note about making meringue with regular (vs. confectioners') sugar, as I believe my friend used the full ration of regular sugar, resulting in slightly grainy meringue. Oh well, a nice change of pace from the usual mimosas, though I don't think we'll be making it again.

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over 3 years ago johnaka

I have made this twice now, and both were excellent. the bartender was confused the first time and added Regatta Ginger Beer instead of Champagne, but it tasted fine, albeit with less alcohol. The second time was just wonderful. Next time, I will try Wondrich's harder recipe that calls for it to be made in an ice cream maker and served as slush.

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over 3 years ago Sagegreen

Love this drink. Thanks for the background information. Years ago I dated a Rutherford, who was actually named for and related to Rutherford B. Hayes. It is so good we are not living with temperance. Perhaps this drink will enjoy a robust revival.

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over 3 years ago Robert W. Brower


Henry Voigt's last two posted menus, one for a German New Year's Eve party in NYC in 1887 and one for the St. Nicolas Hotel Christmas Dinner in NYC in 1881, both have Roman Punch served as a refreshment after the roast. The menus are on his blog, which can be found with Google by searching for "The American Menu."

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over 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Just made this with limeade instead of lemonade (shopping mishap), and I'm happy to report it was really great! Also I made the meringue with regular sugar (1 egg white to 3/4 cup granulated sugar).

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over 3 years ago Daphne

The punch bowl we served our punch from was also used by my great grandmother to carry my grandfather out of their home in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake!

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over 3 years ago monkeymom

Daphne, you have to tell folks about your trip to the liquor store!

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over 3 years ago Daphne

Went to Jackson's Liquors in Lafayette, CA and Don Beatty was a wealth of knowledge. We picked a 12 year old demerara rum called El Dorado. And to float the punch, a black strap rum called Cruzan from St. Croix since 1760. For the champagne we chose the first champagne to hit San Francisco Bay, literally! It was hidden in the bowels of the Niantic, a whaling vessel carrying gold seekers from Panama in the mid 19th Century. The champagne was discovered 20 years later, after the Niantic had been pulled ashore, subsequently abandoned and converted to a hotel. For the lemonade, we adapted Scott Peacock/ Edna Lewis' version from Southern Cooking; Meyer lemons, less sugar:)

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over 3 years ago Daphne

Oh, and its called Champagne Jacquesson:)

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over 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Both are amazing stories!

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over 3 years ago johnaka

I would love to see a photo of this bowl. And I take it your grandfather was an infant at the time?

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over 3 years ago Daphne

johnaka, Our punch bowl is lovely, cut crystal and quite large. When I carried it to the table full of punch from my fridge ( in November) it was heavy, and I wondered then how my great grandmother could have carried her infant son out of the house in it. She was a very small framed woman too, but I guess adrenaline comes in handy in a situation like that.
P. S. sorry I can't fit a photo in for you here...

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over 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

We had this at a party over the weekend. Amazing! So delicious. And how interesting that it first appeared in the Times in 1879. ;o)