In 1763, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to James Bowdoin II, the colonial politician for whom the college in Maine is named. Enclosed was a recipe for milk punch--brandy, citrus juice, water, and sugar combined with boiling milk, then strained of the milk's solids--which can be stored indefinitely at room temperature. It sounds odd, but the refreshing and frothy concoction makes a nice spring party drink.
Ben Wiley, head bartender at José Andrés's America Eats Tavern in DC, was part of a team of historic-document hunters who rediscovered Franklin's punch. He suggests storing it in flip-top glass bottles and offering it as a host gift instead of a bottle of wine. You can try it at America Eats before the Fourth of July, after which the Penn Quarter pop-up is scheduled to close.
Ben Franklin's Milk Punch (Makes 4 to 4½ quarts)
6 cups mid-priced brandy
11 lemons, peels only
4 cups spring water
1 nutmeg, freshly grated
2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3 cups whole milk
In a large airtight lidded container, combine the brandy and lemon peels. Cover and steep for 24 hours. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the peels from the brandy and discard them. Add the water, nutmeg, lemon juice, and sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
In a pan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk to a boil. Immediately add the milk to the brandy mixture and stir. Let stand uncovered for 2 hours--the mixture will curdle as it sits. Strain the mixture through a coffee filter, a clean pillowcase, or a jelly bag if you have one (this may take several hours). Before discarding the curds, squeeze them to extract as much liquid as possible. Use a funnel to transfer the punch to bottles. Before serving, lightly whisk the punch and sprinkle each glass with fresh nutmeg.
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.