How to Make Presidential Roman Punch

Rutherford B. Hayes may have kept White House parties relatively dry, but that didn't mean it wasn't always fun.

02.21.16 5:15 AM ET

President 19- Rutherford B Hayes (March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881)

You know that one responsible friend in college, who didn’t drink and at the stroke of 2 am made sure you were in the cab, with your shoes on, with a to-go cup of water in hand? Why can’t she just loosen up you would ask yourself? Well years later you realize this kind-hearted friend saved you from yourself many times and probably from a future with some mentally stunted frat boy who has now gained 150 lbs and posts 900 pictures of Phish shows on Facebook. A true sorority girl and the First of the First Ladies to graduate from college, “Lemonade” Lucy Hayes was Washington’s mother hen.

After an 1877 state dinner the President hosted for Grand Dukes Alexis and Constantine, sons of Tsar Alexander of Russia, turned into a Miley Cyrus video, Lucy pushed President Hayes to ban alcohol from White House. It soon became the driest but warmest place in the Capitol City. As the “water flowed like wine” at their state dinners, the social butterflies grumbled while temperance and religious groups went wild with joy. When she wasn’t entertaining, Lucy visited hospitals, prisons, slums, and asylums and became one of the first in her role to lead a very public life. She walked the walk and is remembered for her genuine compassion for those less fortunate. 

The Hayes did know how to have good clean fun. The annual Easter egg roll had formerly been held on the lawn of the Capitol. After receiving complaints about the damage the eggs were doing to the grass, the President told them to get a life and offered to host the event at the White House, where it has been held ever since. They also held a lovely Christmas party, along with their five children, for their staff and families. Lucy hand selected the presents and made sure each child got something they had been wanting. In terms of entertaining, they also made some modest improvements. The Hayes’ purchased a massive 1,500 piece china service for hosting, decorated in flora and fauna of North America. The menus were elaborate and the normal oysters, hams, and roasts were common. 

Now those of us who like a tipple know there are always to sneak it in to any dry event. The roman punch, a fruit punch full of rum and thickened with meringue whipped egg whites, was served to guests attending Hayes’ parties at what became known as the “Life Saving Station”. It was unbelievably popular.  President Hayes laughed at the masses in his diary, noting he had ordered the treat be flavored with alcohol-free rum essence but who knows? I would bet there was a steward with a flask.

Roman punch was already popular and was a favorite of President Grant, who liked his heavily spiked. It trended for a good century but when the 1900s rolled around, it made its exit from high fashion parties. In 1922 Emily Post declared it to be “unknown except at public dinners or in the dining room of a parvenu”.  Well, it’s almost been a century so let’s bring it back at least for a day. I have included the two recipes (and pictures of both) from the First ever edition of the Official White House cookbook. I think the second is more my fancy but if you aren’t fond of the “devil’s juice”, use rum extract as a substitute or just eliminate.

Roman Punch No. 1

Grate the yellow rind of four lemons and two oranges upon two pounds of loaf sugar. Squeeze the juice of the lemons and oranges; cover the juice and let it stand until the next day. Strain it through a sieve, mix with the sugar; add a bottle of champagne and the whites of eight eggs beaten to a stiff froth. It may be frozen or not, as desired. For winter use snow instead of [crushed] ice.

Roman Punch No. 2

Make two quarts of lemonade, rich with pure juice lemon fruit; add one tablespoon of extract of lemon. Wok well, and freeze; just before serving, add for each quart of ice half a pint of brandy and half a pint of Jamaica[n] rum. Mix well and serve in high glasses, as this makes what is called a semi of half ice. It is usually served at dinners as a coup de milieu.