The 103rd Anniversary of the Ocean Liner’s Sinking
On April 15, 1912, the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic came to an unexpected and tragic end, the victim of a stealthy iceberg. In one swift and cruel moment, the gilded age lost its shimmer and, with it, its innocence. The promise of Industrialization had betrayed society, symbolized by the sinking of Cunard’s “Queen of the Seas.” Still, while she was afloat, the Titanic represented the human desire for pleasure, especially in food and drink. It is that sense of indulgence that we celebrate today with a recipe for Punch à la Romaine, a divine concoction of airy meringue folded into a citrus sorbet that melts gradually in a sea of rum and Champagne.
Cargo manifests from the Titanic chronicle a grand selection of spirits available aboard the ship — wine, vermouth, Champagne, Cognac, brandy, and whiskey were all on offer. But, while numerous menus of the meals on offer have been recovered, there is only one notation of an actual cocktail served at the final fateful dinner for the first-class passengers. As you might expect, the meal included many decadently rich dishes. It was in between two of these extravagant courses that diners partook of the sorbet-like Punch á la Romaine, also known variously as Punch Romaine and Roman Punch.
As the latter name might suggest, the punch’s origins can be traced to 17th century Rome where it was served to the Popes. After his successful invasion of Italy, Napoleon took the recipe back to France. Eventually it made its way to America, a fact confirmed by its inclusion in Jerry Thomas’s Bar-tender’s Guide of 1862, followed by eight versions of the recipe in the 1869 cocktail book Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks.
This is one of those drinks that require some dedication on the part of the maker. If you have ever made candy, you will be quite at home; if not, have at it and you may surprise yourself. There are simpler ways to do it, namely buying lemon sorbet and forgoing the meringue step. Given the ostentatious nature of the Titanic itself, it seems only proper to do it the old-fashioned way. Should you approach it painstakingly, the result is quite transcendent, not to mention true to the manner in which they would have made the punch aboard ship.
So, today, in honor of the great ship herself, consider raising a glass of the last quaff enjoyed on that icy and isolated night. Punch á la Romaine captures the opulence of an age when man and woman thought all things were possible. When you taste this frothy concoction, you will understand why.
Punch à la Romaine
Yield: 12 portions
- 1 1/2 cups Superfine Sugar
- 4 Lemons (for Peels and Juice)
- Water, as Needed for Lemon Ice
- 2 Egg Whites
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 3 oz. Water
- 8 oz. Aged Rum
- 8 oz. Champagne, or Sparkling Wine
Lemon Water Ice Preparation: Peel the four lemons, removing as little of the pith as possible. Place the peels in a bowl and cover them completely with the sugar, allowing them to sit for one hour. Add 1 cup of lemon juice (approximately 4 lemons will produce this) and stir to dissolve the sugar. Strain out the peels. Add enough water to produce 1 quart of liquid. Freeze in an ice cream maker or pan until only partially frozen.
Italian Meringue Preparation: Beat the two egg whites until they produce stiff peaks. Set aside. Combine the sugar and three ounces of water in a sauce pan. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Using a candy thermometer, heat the mixture to the “small ball” candy stage – 236 to 238 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the syrup from the heat and slowly fold it into the beaten egg whites, stirring until the all syrup is added and the mixture is smooth.
Final Drink Preparation: In an ice cream maker or chilled bowl, add the Italian meringue to the lemon ice, stirring gently until combined. When ready to serve, place the meringue/ice mixture into a punch bowl. Slowly add rum and champagne, stirring constantly. The mixture should be thick and creamy, but drinkable. Serve immediately, as the frothy quality will dissipate.