BY AMANDA CUMMINS
Rum punch. The Caribbean. The first lunchtime back in the West Indies is always a moment of delight, with a tantalising glass to the left of me, a seductive sea to the right, all beneath the sun. Stuck in the middle of perfection with loved ones.
A proper rum punch is a drink of magic. It’s an amalgamation of sweet and sour, with a kick of sun-drenched alcohol. It is not a super-sweet, bright pink atrocity of sundry tropical fruit splashed with a slug of grenadine – all whizzed together in a liquidiser with gut-rot rum, which can all but too often be found in tourist hot-spots in the West Indies.
Rum punch, a proper rum punch, is a subtle cocktail of four basic ingredients. As a child, the rum punch rhyme was as familiar as Humpty Dumpty or Jack & Jill. Of course, I didn’t taste a rum punch until much, much later!
- One of sour
- Two of sweet
- Three of strong
- Four of weak
Mix the first 3 items together and pour into a tumbler filled with crushed ice (yes: crushed ice represents the “weak”). Then add some fresh nutmeg grated on top, and a tiny dash of Angostura bitters. A stirring stick. And perhaps, as a retro touch, a cocktail cherry with its stalk balanced over the edge of the glass and a slice of orange or pineapple to nibble at (I have been known in the distant past to refer to these accoutrements as “lunch”). One of those baby bamboo umbrellas is surplus – not only unnecessary but also an aesthetic crime.
Important points about the recipe:
- One of sour: this has to be lime juice. Lemon juice does not work.
- Two of sweet: cane syrup is the best, but homemade sugar syrup is an alternative. Don’t be tempted to just chuck in some granulated sugar and stir, thinking it will dissolve: it doesn’t.
- Three of strong: It must be “light” rum – not dark rum or white rum.
Rum is not just drunk as part of the alchemy that is rum punch. It can be enjoyed as“neaters” on ice, with water or soda (with a slice of lime), with dry ginger, with cola. But it doesn’t taste the same in England.
Perhaps it’s an old wives’ tale, but lots of people say that rum changes its taste once you get to the Azores. A friend of my father’s used to say that rum and soda tasted perfectly filthy the closer one got to the UK.
I gave a bottle of Barbados rum to a friend, the idea being that we create an authentic rum punch on a sunny, summer Warwickshire Sunday. It never happened, and ages later I was horrified to discover my pal had created a concoction for his hunting hip-flask involving the rum I’d given him, brandy and ginger wine…he described it as Rocket Fuel. Battery Acid or Drain Cleaner or Anti Freeze were perhaps a better description. I had one sip, and lost the power of speech!