This day of feasting first took place in 1732, the inaugural year of the select “Colony in Schuylkill” club, the oldest social organization speaking the English language (apparently earlier London clubs were not formally organized). This exclusive men’s group was founded as a men’s fishing club by a few of the original Philadelphia settlers, many of whom immigrated with William Penn to the New World.
The small group's intent was to “spend an idyllic day every now and then dawdling on the banks of the Schuylkill River … shooting game birds and fishing and cooking their catch for dinner, with no wives or servants present.” Their first meeting house, which they called “the castle,” was built on the west side of the Schuylkill River when the area was still a wilderness. In 1781 the group was renamed the “State in Schuylkill” and for generations they fished in the city’s streams, then cooked and ate what they caught themselves, each one serving the other.
Also referred to as the “Schuylkill Fishing Company” or “Fish House Club,” members have always prepared their own food, and in the beginning devoted much time to hunting and fishing, enjoying the time spent outdoors and sticking to simple cooking techniques. For example, club rules stipulate that “high seasoning” should not be used when grilling steaks. Although city development, pollution, and overfishing have caused the club to move its location several times over the years, the citizens (as club members are called) still gather along the Schuylkill to feast on barbecued pork, grilled steaks, planked shad, and perch “thrown” in skillets, all prepared by club members and served with the group’s famous Fish House Punch, a potent rum-based brew.
Fish House Punch
To serve a crowd ~
- 2 cups lemon juice
- 6 oz. superfine granulated sugar
- 2 bottles Jamaican rum (750 ml each)
- 1 bottle brandy or cognac (750 ml)
- 1 cup peach brandy or ½ cup peach liqueur
- 8 oz club soda, chilled
- One day in advance, combine sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
- In a container with a lid, combine the sugar-lemon mixture, rum, brandy and peach brandy. Stir, cover and refrigerate.
- When ready to serve, fill a punch bowl with ice, add club soda and stir gently.
Enjoy with caution – this stuff is potent!
Some recipes include sliced frozen peaches, which is a lovely addition ... my friends Heather and Sean Moran hosted us recently and served Fish House Punch this way and it was delicious!
Source: The Complete Bartender by Robyn M. Feller
Since you might want to enjoy this drink without having to make a huge amount, I thought I’d share this recipe for Small Batch Fish House Punch, courtesy of Modern Tiki:
- 1 1/2 oz dark Jamaican rum
- 3/4 oz cognac
- 1/2 oz apricot brandy
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 3/4 oz simple syrup
- 3-4 drops lemon oil (not extract)
- 1 oz water*
*You can also add ice to your mixing glass and stir to dilute the drink instead of simply adding water.
For further reading about Philadelphia’s early food scene, check out Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School.