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A Bit Punchy: Festive Beverages & APS

Susan Laquer has led a distinguished career in Philadelphia-area archives for the last three decades. Before coming to the APS...

As an archivist, I find interesting materials when processing the American Philosophical Society’s institutional records. Sometimes an unusual item will be part of a similar group of materials, or something will stand out on its own—a unique document in the midst of more predictable files.The latter case was true when I came across this intriguing list of punch recipes in the Luther P. Eisenhart Records. Eisenhart was an Executive Officer at the American Philosophical Society from 1942-1959.

recipes for punches
“Recipes for punches,” from the Luther Eisenhart subseries, Executive Office Records, APS Archives

“Is this what I think it is?” I thought, as I examined the list (see above). I remembered holiday gatherings from my childhood, when there were two batches of punch: one for the adults and the other for children. These recipes were definitely for adults, and provided directions on how to combine champagne, liquor, and other ingredients to provide gallons of sparkling beverage for any festivity. Some of the recipes called for quarts of brandy and rum being added to the mix, which would drain the decanters of any mixologist.

I looked through the rest of the folder, which held Eisenhart’s “G” correspondence for 1946. I couldn’t find any related documents that shed light on the context of the punch recipes—who may have created or compiled them—and why they were part of an administrator’s office files. 

Much of Eisenhart’s records from this time period dealt with far more serious matters, such as the Society’s radio broadcasts to Europe during World War II, the steps taken to protect APS treasures at the height of that conflict, and support of UNESCO, a special branch of the United Nations, formed to promote peace and security through educational, scientific, and cultural initiatives.

Hollands catering menu
“Suggested menus for the buffet luncheon,” Luther Eisenhart Records, Executive Office, APS Archives

As I pulled the next folder out of the box, the mystery was solved: the recipe list had been misfiled by someone—perhaps under the influence? The subsequent folder held numerous letters from “H” correspondents, including those of John W. Holland, who owned a Philadelphia catering company (see above). The business was located on North 19th Street, near Rittenhouse Square. As I examined the correspondence between Holland and APS Secretary Julia A. Noonan, I was able to confirm that a cryptic note written on the recipe list, “Rit6-2924,” was the phone number for his catering company. 

Based on this documentation, it appears that Holland’s company provided catering for the APS Members’ Meeting in the fall of 1946. Mr. Holland and Ms. Noonan swapped menu ideas back and forth, which revealed the culinary conventions of the day. Potential selections included options like cutlets and croquettes, aspics and salads, oysters and ham. Each of the menus were carefully stamped with the notice, “A working day is 8 hours; all overtime must be paid for at the rate of $1.00 per hour” (or @ $15.00 by our current standards).

suggested and accepted buffet menus
Suggested and accepted buffet menus, Luther Eisenhart Records, Executive Office, APS Archives

While it’s not clear if the punch list can be attributed to Holland’s Catering or passed down by  APS staff over time (further research is needed), some of the recipes are historical. For example, the Fish House punch is a Philadelphia favorite from the colonial era, and boasts several variations—three of which are on this recipe list. Champagne punch came into vogue in Germany, later in the 18th century, and then spread to other parts of Europe and America. The 19th century Sauterne punch, also known as the Legare Street punch, is named for a famous thoroughfare in Charleston, SC.

Another interesting thing to note: Holland’s Catering initially suggested “fruit punch and fancy cakes” as refreshments for a Members’ buffet held on October 17. However, within five days, the menu was updated to “champagne punch and assorted cookies.” We don’t know who made the decision to switch to an adult beverage—Dr. Eisenhart or Ms. Noonan—but we do have the recipe they used. For their end-of-the-year festivities, staff of the Society's Library & Museum recently tried one of the punch recipes—Fish House Punch #2— (respecting all COVID-19 protocols, of course) and look forward to trying out others at future gatherings. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

punch bowl
Illustration courtesy of “Punch, the Granddaddy of All Bartendery Drinks,” accessed 29 November 2021

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