Recently, we heard from Lexington tavern-keeper David Comee, who was assaulted by a customer who was trying to steal a lemon. A few people noticed the irony that in the 18th century, lemons were generally used to make punch. It seems like poor David Comee received several!
But a strong punch really was one of the more popular drinks in 18th century taverns. In fact, we still have a surviving lemon juicer from Munroe Tavern. While the Munroe punch recipes don’t survive, we know generally what would have gone into them: a mixture of fruit juice, water, sugar, alcohol, and spices. This was considered a gentleman’s drink due to its expensive ingredients, although a few bowls of punch would lead men to become anything but gentlemanly, as William Hogarth brilliantly illustrated in his painting, A Midnight Modern Conversation.
This past weekend, we tried some of this authentic punch at the LHS Colonial Singers’ performance of The Beggar’s Opera, a satirical British musical from 1728. The characters in the show are decidedly low-class, but their nefarious activities could bring in enough money to allow them to indulge a bit! The recipe we served our guests was taken from a 1723 cookbook called The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary; Or, The Accomplish'd Housewife’s Companion. Originally called “Punch for Chamber-Maids”, it includes lemon, lime, and orange juice, sugar water, white wine, and brandy. While not in the original recipe, a sprinkling of nutmeg, the 18th century’s favorite flavoring, rounded out the drink nicely. Not all 18th century recipes suit the modern palate, but this punch ended up being quite a treat just the way it was written. We are hoping to have a revival of The Beggar’s Opera sometime in the future, but in the meantime, give this punch a try for yourself at home!
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.