From ornate and vintage to the very sleek and modern, punch bowls have long been the center of our entertaining repertoire. They provide a way to serve dozens of guests liquid refreshment without the necessity of mixing individual drinks. They are simple and elegant — even functional — yet sadly not as common as they once were.
The popularity of punch bowls and the punch served from them has come and gone with fashion, trends in entertainment and even the wishes of Queen Victoria. But, as we move into the holiday season, there may be room for the punch bowl to once again grace your table.
Punch has roots in India. An adaptation of the Hindi “paantsch," the original drink consisted of only five ingredients: a spirit, sugar, lemon or other citrus, water or tea, and spices. We can thank the East India Company for the introduction of punch to Europe and subsequently Colonial America.
Early Colonial American punch bowls were popular in affluent homes as well as taverns as a way to serve many people quickly. The recipe base remained intact, and rum was a preferred spirit. The combination of other ingredients was a way to tame that spirit and make it a bit more palatable.
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Punch began to fall out of favor in America by the mid-19th century. The industrial age pushed us further away from relaxing time spent sipping punch in taverns to more urgent matters. Ice also became more readily available, allowing for the creation of cocktails served in single glasses. Punch and its bowl moved from a daily occurrence to the focus of holidays and special occasions. All good things must come to an end… and all good things eventually come around again.
The post-WWII era of in-home entertainment in America gave punch a well deserved renaissance. Punch became the center of the '50s and '60s cocktail party. “Party Punch” recipes proliferated in the women’s pages of newspapers and in women’s magazines. There were non-alcoholic versions, too, allowing kids to join the fun.
Soft drink companies joined in the trend, too. A recipe for “Seven-Up Red Satin Punch” called for cranberry juice, apple juice and 7-Up. To keep the punch chilled, ice cubes made from 7-Up were used so the punch would not be diluted. A Sprite recipe of the times, “The Modhouse," was bright green due to lime gelatin and frozen limeade concentrate.
The punch bowls of the '50s and '60s were as varied as the punch recipes. From clear glass with ornate designs and milk glass with bright colors to intricate silver, there was a punch bowl for every taste and budget. These retro punch bowls are still available at modest prices in antique stores and online.
Anchor Hocking’s clear Wexford design is a sturdy classic that will hold a few gallons of punch. The pattern was so popular in mid-century America that pieces are easily spotted in antique stores and retro shops. The same company produced a Lusterware Peach punch bowl — a shiny peach color — that remains a classic and affordable retro set.
From small gatherings of friends to large crowds of family, a punch bowl certainly comes in handy for getting a drink in the hands of guests quickly. If you love to entertain and do not already own one, consider adding a vintage or retro piece to your collection.