Summertime One-Two Punch

By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson

Summertime and the livin’ is easy—even easier with a cool drink in hand! Join me in the garden where upside-down tequila bottles line garden beds and the multihued glass of a “bottle tree” glistens in the sunlight. A trio of rusty mariachis, ingeniously crafted from old oil drums, plays lifelike musical instruments, while whiskey barrel cocktail tables invite guests to lounge and linger. Overhead, a sign says it all: “La Lucinda Cantina: Tequila, Music, and Dancing!” Here is where I serve my legendary libations: party punches.

For my recipes, I borrowed from Mexico’s aguas frescas—sweetened fruit “waters” flavored with fresh watermelon, pineapple or jamaica (hibiscus) flowers. Mexican street vendors ladle cups of these colorful and enticing concoctions to waiting customers from carts weighted with large, wide-mouthed glass jars. 

My version has a twist on flavor and presentation. I replace the jarabe sugar syrup used by the street vendors with natural tropical fruit juices found bottled or frozen in our markets. I also add lots of freshly squeezed lime, lemon and/or orange juice to make the punch more tart and refreshing. Then I add my signature fresh herbs and edible flowers, slices of citrus and chunks of fresh fruit. I keep a can of undiluted frozen limeade or agave syrup on hand if extra sweetener is needed.

Adding spritz to the punch makes it even more refreshing—use sparkling water or Squirt, a citrus-flavored soda favored in Mexico. Add a few cans directly to the punch, or top off each glass individually.

To spike or not to spike—your choice! Use clear spirits like white rum, silver tequila, vodka or gin to add punch to the punch. Or top each glass with a big splash of Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or Champagne. Garnish with edible flowers and fragrant herbs and stir with a stalk of lemongrass.

Serve your punch from large glass crocks, vases or pitchers, and wreath the bases with whole fresh fruit, flowers, greenery and seasonal ornaments. Have an ice bucket, long-stemmed glasses and a ladle on hand. The punch will steal the show and break the ice, and guests can serve themselves, making it easy on the host. Cheers!

Lucinda’s Summertime One-Two Punch

HERB GARDEN PUNCH

(from Lucinda Hutson’s book, The Herb Garden Cookbook, UT Press)

1 or more loosely packed cups fresh mint
1 or more bunches of lemon-scented (or other) herbs    
2 46-oz. cans unsweetened pineapple juice
Juice of 2 lemons and 4 limes
2 lemons, cut into rounds
3 limes, cut into rounds
Additional sprigs of fresh herbs
Spritz or spike to taste

Gently wring herbs to release flavor. Place in large glass jar with juices. Chill overnight, occasionally pressing down on herbs with back of a wooden spoon to release more flavor. Prior to serving, remove herbs (they will have discolored) and replace with fresh herb sprigs and citrus slices. Pour into iced glasses with a splash of Squirt and garnish with fresh herb sprigs and citrus slices. This punch is also lovely presented in a punch bowl with floating edible flowers and herb sprigs.

VARIATIONS

Add lemongrass, fresh pineapple chunks and Reed’s Original Ginger Brew to the original recipe. Discard the tough outer leaves from four stalks of lemongrass and bruise the stalks with the back of a knife. Cut stalks into 2-inch segments and add them to the punch the day before serving. Lemongrass stalks also make good stirrers for the punch. For other versions, use limeade, lemonade, apple juice or a combination of tropical mango, guava or passion fruit juices.

SUMMER HERBS AND FLOWERS FOR PUNCHES

Lemon-scented herbs: lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemongrass leaves and stalks, Thai Kaffir lime leaves

Mint: spearmint, yerba buena, pineapple, red-stemmed apple (avoid strongly flavored peppermint)

Other herbs: allspice leaves, pineapple sage, lavender spikes, Mexican mint marigold (in moderation)

Edible summer flowers: anise hyssop, marigolds, rose petals