In 1941, Charles H. Baker Jr. provided the “authentic” version of a “recipe for a punch so superb and so deceitful that it has many rival claimants.” This version, from a story by Lawton Mackall, author of the early restaurant guide
Knife and Fork in New York (1948), is identical except that actual measurements are provided. In subsequent years,
Gourmet published many similar (and some not so similar) Fish House Punch recipes; the compelling question that remains is not whether this one or that one is “authentic” but why it has become iconic. The product of an elite social club called State in Schuylkill (originally Colony in Schuylkill and later Schuylkill Fishing Company,) the punch recipe was said to be 164 years old when
The Philadelphia Times wrote about it in 1896. So it has longevity going for it. The peach brandy of those days would certainly have been dry, more like an eau-de-vie than a sweetened liqueur, making authenticity of flavor pretty difficult to determine. Given its fame, however, it must have made its name on more than just its easy-drinking deceitfulness.
Peak Spirits produces one of the only peach eaux-de-vie on the market today.
Dissolve 1 pound of loaf sugar with just enough water for the purpose, add 1 quart lemon juice, and let these steep together for about 1 hour.
In a separate container, preferably a large jug, blend 2 quarts Jamaica rum, 1 quart cognac, and 4 ounces peach brandy, diluted with about 1 1/2 quarts water. Cover the jug tightly to prevent evaporation and let the liquors steep.
Merge these two mixtures in a punch bowl containing a large block of ice. With an occasional gentle stir, let them brew for 2 hours. Taste for strength; if insufficiently diluted, add water. On a warm day, the melting ice will need little assistance if any. In wintry weather, it might need a quart.
Note on sweetness: As a concession to present-day palates, the traditional pound of loaf sugar may be, and I understand generally is, reduced to 3/4 pound.