A Modern Replication of a Colonial Cocktail in Three Parts
The Massachusetts Historical Society listed Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch recipe as their Object of the Month in December 2004. I found it many years later, in December 2011, when it was referenced by a fellow writer and drinker.
Franklin’s original recipe was sent as a letter to friend and longtime correspondent James Bowdoin on October 11, 1763. The Historical Society provides a touch of context: “Franklin and Bowdoin corresponded for forty years, often discussing their mutual scientific interests. In his letter, Franklin suggested he stop at Bowdoin’s door the following morning, and mentioned scientific works that he would have delivered to Bowdoin. Referring to the enclosed recipe, Franklin wrote, ‘Herewith you have the Receipt you desired.'” Perhaps Franklin wanted to stop by the next morning to also toss a few back with his friend?
Regardless, Franklin’s recipe – which “shares characteristics of two beverages– possets and syllabubs” – reads, according to the Society’s translation of Franklin’s handwritten script, as follows:
Take 6 quarters of Brandy, and the Rinds
of 44 Lemons pared very thin; Steep the
Rinds in the Brandy 24 hours; then strain
it off. Put to it 4 Quarts of Water,
4 large Nutmegs grated, 2 quarts of
Lemon Juice, 2 pound of double refined
Sugar. When the Sugar is dissolv’d,
boil 3 Quarts of Milk and put to the rest
hot as you take it off the Fire, and stir
it about. Let it stand two Hours; then
run it thro’ a Jelly-bag till it is clear;
then bottle it off. —
Franklin’s instructions clearly produce a large batch of punch, using roughly 15 quarts (nearly four gallons) of liquid, almost four dozen lemons, and two pounds of sugar. Although the recipe doesn’t include any indications of “number served,” we can estimate a large group. It seems the Historical Society understood this as well; they provide “a modern adaptation…with reduced proportions to one quarter of those suggested by Franklin.”
Yet even this reduced amount was too much for just me. So I decided to halve the Society’s numbers, thereby creating a batch just one-eighth the size of Franklin’s specifications. My back-of-the-envelope calculations indicated it would make just a little less than a half gallon. A perfect amount for one person, to be enjoyed over a long holiday weekend.