After returning in November 1762 from five years in England, Franklin served as joint deputy postmaster general for North America during the summer of 1763 by touring the northeastern colonies. He based his travels out of Boston, where he visited family and recuperated from a shoulder injury. Preparing to depart Boston for Philadelphia on 11 October 1763, Benjamin Franklin wrote to James Bowdoin, taking his leave and enclosing this recipe for "Milk Punch."
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."
Franklin's Milk Punch recipe shares characteristics of two types of beverages--possets and syllabubs. Possets combine hot milk with ale, wine, or brandy, sugar, and spices. Heat and alcohol curdle the milk. Possets were used as remedies for colds, and were consumed from the spout of a posset cup, which let one drink the whey from the bottom and eat the curd later. Syllabubs combine milk with wine and lemon juice (or other acids); the acid from the wine and juice curdle the milk. Served in a glass, the foamy curd of the syllabub is eaten with a spoon and the punch drunk.
For the adventurous, the following is a modern interpretation of Franklin's recipe, with portions reduced to one quarter of those suggested by Franklin. The flavor is lemony, with a slightly medicinal kick.
6 cups (3 pints) of brandy
2 cups lemon juice
4 cups (1 quart) of spring water
1 freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/8 cups (1/2 lb) of sugar
3 cups of whole milk
Zest eleven lemons.
Squeeze 2 cups of lemon juice.
Steep the lemon zest in the brandy for 24 hours.
Strain out the lemon zest.
Add 4 cups of spring water, 1 freshly grated nutmeg, 2 cups of lemon juice, and 1 1/8 cups of sugar to the brandy.
Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Bring 3 cups of whole milk to a boil.
As soon as the milk boils, add it hot to the brandy mix and stir.
The heat, lemon juice, and alcohol will begin to curdle the milk.
Let the punch stand for 2 hours.
Strain the punch through a jelly bag (or pillow case) until clear. Serve cold.
Brands, H. W. The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Anchor Books, 2002.
Brown, Peter B., and Marla H. Schwartz. Come Drink the Bowl Dry: Alcoholic Liquors and Their Place in 18th Century Society: An Exhibition at Fairfax House, York 1st September to 20th November 1996. York: York Civic Trust, 1996.
Kershaw, Gordon E. James Bowdoin II: Patriot and Man of the Enlightenment. Lanham: University Press of America, 1991.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 10, Leonard W. Labaree, editor. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.
MHS Miscellany, No. 11 (April 1970). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1970.
Morgan, Edmund S. Benjamin Franklin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Thanks to Frank Clark, Supervisor of Historic Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg for his help explaining possets and syllabubs.