There’s nothing like a Kimberly Schlegel Whitman party. In her eighth successful entertaining book, Parties Around A Punchbowl (Gibbs Smith Publishing) Dallas-based entertaining expert Whitman shares recipes for both savory punch concoctions and hors d’oeuvres to accompany them. Catching up with her longtime pal, our punch-loving Lance Avery Morgan, she confides in this excerpt how to create a perfect punch bowl-based event, where people will love to gather in the summertime and beyond.
One of the best things about punch is that you can’t mess it up! It is meant to be mixed together, tasted, adjusted, and added to during the party. If you run out of one ingredient during the course of the party, you can even substitute something else and send the flavor in a different delicious direction. Punch is an evolving concoction that continues to change until the party is over.
One of the most enjoyable things about planning a party with punch is choosing the bowl and cups. Using a punch bowl has wonderful benefits, from bringing people together to the ease it provides a hostess, who won’t have to fill glasses on her own all night. I like to serve punch in small cups so that guests are required to make frequent trips to refill. It keeps the party moving!
Thinking back to special occasions in my childhood, I immediately think of the sparkly punch that I enjoyed. Family reunions, weddings, church get-togethers— the punch bowl was always there and I looked forward to it. Serving punch from a gorgeous glass bowl with a glass or silver ladle was a sweet yet practical way to serve a large gathering. The table with the bowl and cups was a fun place to say hi to an old friend or meet a new one. The punch bowl was perfect for any party. But somehow, as I grew up, these delicious mixed batches started to disappear. The punch bowl was rarely pulled out of the silver closet, while signature drinks and specialty cocktails started to appear.
After spending several decades in the cupboard, the punch bowl has made a sparkling comeback! And this time around, it has the added element of nostalgic charm. As a host, you will find that it relieves the hard work of constantly mixing drinks for your guests. As a guest, you will enjoy finding a natural gathering spot to start a new conversation. And let’s remember that the small cups that sit alongside the punch bowl were originally designed to keep punch lovers from overindulging too quickly; there is still something to be said for that.
FIVE BASIC ELEMENTS
At the heart of all punch recipes are five basic elements: alcohol, acid, sugar, spice and water. You can play with all of these in inclusion and strength to find a recipe that works for you. It only takes two of these elements to make a punch!
One of the great things about a punch is that the recipe is always loose—and that is my kind of recipe! It is really hard to mess up a punch. The idea is that as the evening goes on, the punch will evolve as you refresh it. You might start the evening heavier on the alcohol, and as the night moves on, you might give the juice a longer pour instead. It is okay to let it continue to change and let your guests enjoy the different variations. So go ahead and take the plunge— try your own take on the classic tradition when you host your next get-together.
PARTIES AROUND A PUNCHBOWL RECIPES
FESTIVE CHAMPAGNE PUNCH
1 1/2 cups pomegranate arils or fresh cranberries, or 10 ounces frozen cranberries
2/3 cup orange juice
3 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
24 ounces ginger ale
1 (750 ml) bottle Champagne
Rosemary, for garnish, optional
SERVES AROUND 16
Freeze an ice ring (see below) of pomegranate arils or cranberries. Combine the orange juice, water, lemon juice, ginger ale, and Champagne in a punch bowl. If you would like it a little stronger, add a second bottle of Champagne. Garnish the bowl or cups with pomegranate arils, cranberries, rosemary, seasonal fruit, or citrus slices
TO MAKE AN ICE RING:
To keep your punch cold longer, use a large Bundt pan to make an ice ring. Add pomegranate arils, cranberries, sliced citrus or other garnishes to suit your recipe; then add water and freeze. To get the ice ring out of the Bundt pan, dip the pan for a moment in hot water or run the pan underthe hot water tap for a few seconds. The ice ring will easily come out.
TIP: For a summer punch, strawberries are an excellent choice!
KICKY WATERMELON PUNCH
1 large watermelon, reserving melon balls
1 (25-ounce) bottle raspberry Bellini (I use Trader Joe’s)
1 (64-ounce) bottle Watermelon Cooler
1 (20-ounce) bottle sparkling mineral water (I like Topo
1 (33-ounce) bottle sparkling limeade
Limes and oranges, sliced, for garnish
Lay the watermelon on its side and cut off the top fourth of the stem-end of the melon. Then begin carving out the inside of the melon. (Be careful not to puncture the sides or bottom of the watermelon or you will have quite the mess on your hands when you pour in the punch!) I like using a Parisienne scoop for making small watermelon balls, which I freeze and use later to keep the punch cool and add as a garnish. Once you have completely removed the inside of the watermelon, pour all the liquid ingredients into the carved-out watermelon punch bowl.
Add the frozen melon balls as desired. Float the lime and orange slices in the bowl for a pretty effect. The watermelon can only hold so much, but the recipe will serve more than the melon can hold.
- With the leftover watermelon, I make a purée in the food processor, adding a little lime juice and a pinch of sugar. I either add it to the punch or freeze it as pops. Kids really like it!
- As with all punches, this one is flexible. If you want a stronger punch, add your favorite liquor, such as vodka or tequila.
- For a kid-friendly twist, leave out the Bellini and add lemonade and/or the watermelon purée.