Holiday Entertaining in Style: A Brief History of Punch


“I informed Mr. Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch and lead him to the lemons.”
–Charles Dickens, from David Copperfield

For hundreds of years guests and friends were brought together around the punch bowl and today providing a bowl of punch at your holiday party still conjures up a festive atmosphere. Read on to learn about punch’s fascinating history and how to decorate your own home to entertain holiday guests.

The origins of punch have been debated as a creation of circumstance, but the first written reference to punch appears in a letter sent on September 28, 1632 by Robert Addams who was stationed in India working for the British East India Company. The name possibly came from the Hindi word for “five” but most punches consisted of more than five ingredients. Some people think that it may have been named after a short, wide cask called a puncheon that was used to serve the mixture.

In 1638 a German in India wrote home and reported that the workers made “…a kind of drink consisting of aqua vitae, rose-water, juice of citrons and sugar.”

Our stunning Sixteenth Century Italian Replica Globe Bar (SJ45001) is crafted with hand carved all wood construction with a lower shelf and wooden surround rail. Covered with nautical maps from the National Museum of Science, Florence, Italy, this Globe Bar is an unforgettable classic twenty-two inches in diameter, standing on a trio of legs with rolling casters. Finished inside with hand painted frescoes reminiscent of the domed ceiling contraspecto (“view from the heavens”), the interior of this Design Toscano exclusive will hold your bottles and glassware in old world style.

Sailors brought back punch to Britain as a beer alternative by the men working ships for the East India Company. It was used as a way to tame the fiery rum and citrus that helped protect them from scurvy. Sailors also helped to spread punch to the west as they traveled to America. People first would go down to the docks to buy a cup of punch as the ships would sell what was left after a voyage.

Contrary to popular fiction, pirates really preferred their rum via a bowl of punch that had been diluted with water, lime, egg yolk, sugar with a bit of nutmeg on top.

Unique and amazing, this Design Toscano-exclusive Italian Style World Map Cocktail Bar Streamer Trunk (WL4001) is an ingenious way to serve and store a fully equipped bar. Reminiscent of the day when every well-traveled person had trunks stored in their staterooms, our Cocktail Bar Steamer Trunk will hold all your barware and bottles in first-class style. This work of furniture art is formed from replica 1748 Italian published maps of the world, with faux leather straps and trim, brass rivets and metal buckles and can be easily moved on six wheels so you can store it out of the way or display it front and center.

Punch, considered the earliest cocktail, next became the social beverage for hundreds of years in London’s coffee houses where the punch helped to calm down the coffee jitters. This benefit made rum punch the most popular beverage among aristocrats.

As a punch aficionado, Dickens’ brilliant comic character—his favorite character—Mr. Micawber, having been entertained by his friend David Copperfield with a bowl of punch with a base of brandy and rum, had the end result of causing Mr. Micawber’s face to shine “…as if it had been varnished all over.”

 Wilkins Micawber 
 By Frank Reynolds (1876-1853)
Wilkins Micawber
By Frank Reynolds (1876-1853)

Wheel in the libations or the punch bowl on our Cranbrook Manor Cordial Carriage (KS2067). Hand crafted of solid hardwood this stylish cart, direct from the horse and carriage age, will add excitement and European style to your Thanksgiving or Christmas entertaining. Charming and stylish with a rich warm wooden patina, two glass paned doors enclose ample storage and a handle moves things along smoothly on the four hidden casters.

America’s Founding Fathers and their friends drank 76(!) bowls of punch at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Relive history yourself and enjoy the following recipe, an example of the kind of punch they were drinking at that time. Fair warning, you may want to cut this down a bit unless you’re hosting a HUGE party!

American Meeting House Punch (circa 1789)
4 barrels of beer
30 gallons of New England rum
25 gallons of West India rum
34 pounds of loaf sugar
25 pounds of brown sugar
465 lemons

Any wine lover would be proud to display this clever Bishop Church Key Corkscrew Bottle Opener (SP8972) on their kitchen counter or home bar. A Design Toscano exclusive, this corkscrew and bottle opener was cast directly from an antique and is created in cast iron with an antiqued verdigris patina. Our vintage reproduction is always handy and ready to open both wine and beer to help make your punch mixture or party a success.

Although, during the Victorian era, alcoholic punch drinking fell somewhat out of fashion and favor, Charles Dickens published a piece in Household Word, titled “A Bowl of Punch.” In the article Dickens bemoaned the fact that punch bowls, which once lined bars ready to be called upon, were now stacked up unused and uncalled for.

Love punch as much as Dickens? Try this recipe from a letter Charles Dickens sent to a friend in 1847:

Charles Dickens’ Flaming Punch
Use a cooking pot or kettle with lid
½ cup sugar
Lemon peels with no pulp

Combine lemon peels with the sugar, muddle together and leave to set thirty or sixty minutes.

To the lemon and sugar mixture add:
2 ½ cups brandy
1 cup dark rum

Then scoop up a ladle full of the mixture, and carefully set it on fire (taking extreme caution!)

Lower the burning ladle into the rest of the mixture and let it burn for 1 or 2 minutes.

Put it out by covering the pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Then add:
2 cups apple cider
4 cups of strong black tea or water
The juice of 3 lemons

Cook on low for 10 minutes to serve hot.

Or, after cooking, let cool and add ice to serve cold.

And finally, a finishing touch of ground nutmeg should be added on top of each cup.

This set of two Grape Harvest Solid Brass Goblets (TV98747) are a Design Toscano exclusive and finely crafted of solid brass then nestled in a presentation box ready to gift for any occasion. Ornamented with a lush ring of bountiful grapes, a useful work of art in the old world style, this set of goblets looks stunning displayed behind glass as well, on the dining table or raised to make a thankful toast.

If, on some cold wet night, you’re hosting friends and guests you might want to try this slightly updated recipe using gin as a base—the use of gin was also attributed to Charles Dickens. And maybe you too will all get warm and pink just like Mr. Micawber.

Hot Gin Punch – Serves 6
3 teacups of gin
3 teacups of Madeira Wine
3 cloves
A pinch of grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
2 teaspoons of brown sugar
6 large lemon and orange twists
Small slice of orange
1 fresh pineapple, cubed
4 large spoonful’s of honey
Juice of 2 lemons

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan and place on the heat. Let the mixture simmer without boiling for twenty to thirty minutes. While it cooks balance the sweet/sour flavor with honey and lemon to your taste. You can also rewarm the mixture; the punch arguably gets better and better the longer it simmers.

When you’re satisfied with the flavor, pour into a teapot and serve hot in tea cups with slices of gingerbread on the side. Alternatively, serve from your favorite punch bowl.

This Design Toscano-exclusive Wine and Dine Glass-Topped Sculptural Table (EU32574) is supported by a trio of oversized wine bottles, a glass of wine and a bunch of grapes, all with an antiqued faux bronze finish supporting a sixteen-inch diameter clear glass top. Featured front and center at a wine tasting party or used to hold a punch bowl at a gathering, this Wine and Dine sculptural table makes a charming side table or special spot to proudly serve and display your prized vintages.

For many years here in America most punches served were nonalcoholic and suitable for the whole family, but “spiked” punch bowls have been making their way back into the social scene, especially for the holidays. In New York, the Dead Rabbit restaurant, voted The World’s Best Bar in 2016, serves a welcome drink of punch to each guest.

For centuries skilled artisans called “coopers” created casks such as our Design Toscano-exclusive replica, the French Wine Barrel Wall Sculpture (NG32903). Our French vintage barrel was cast in quality designer resin and hand painted in a light oak wood tone, with characteristic staves, hoops and a faux iron spigot. Create the perfect setting for a wine tasting or enhance your wine cellar or home bar with this nostalgic three-dimensional French Wine Barrel wall sculpture.

Let the sun shine in with this Tiffany-style Grape Vineyard Stained Glass Window (HD597). With a lavish grape vine pattern, glistening with bunches of wine colored grapes formed from ninety-one glass cabochons, this art glass window will turn any view to one of a lush vineyard. Framed by a grouping of stylized pieces of hand cut art glass and backed by textured clear glass, this feast for the senses will brighten up any local winery, wine cellar or home bar.

Proclaim a wonderful welcome to guests with Toscano’s quality designer resin Salute! And Mangia! Wall Sculptures (AH923111). For any décor, from classic Tuscan to modern contemporary style, extend warm Italian greetings to all your family and friends. With both Salute (to your health!) and Mangia (Eat!) plaques adorned in rich grape clusters, they make memorable hostess gifts and house warming presents for any room where you eat, drink and celebrate the good life!

“The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”
–Charles Dickens, from Nickolas Nickelby

A great punch is a fine balance between spirts, citrus, sweetness and spices, just like fine home décor.

Impress your guests and offer libations from a classic piece from Design Toscano. We offer many bars and bar cabinets, serving as both functional and decorative art pieces, along with stools, bar accents and artistic wall sculptures. With old world charm, our pieces are perfect and practical for any celebration or to just enjoy yourself displayed prominently in any office, den, library, man cave, game room or dining room.

Say “cheers” this holiday season and make a Design Toscano part of your happy hour!

Posted by Sue Mell