Having a keen interest in London history we were thrilled to be asked to create a gin cocktail for The Foundling Museum’s Found Exhibition, a rich prospect with many avenues to explore not least the association with William Hogarth.
In thinking ‘Gin’ and ‘Hogarth’ it is natural to turn to his 1751 engraving ‘Gin Lane’ – the infamous companion piece to ‘Beer Street’, which depicts the wicked and corrupting influence of 18th century rot-gut gin (Madam Geneva) on the working poor. However before allowing a negative gloom to settle on proceedings, the anti-gin propaganda of the 18th century has to be put in context. There was a gargantuan amount of drunkenness through all levels of society throughout this period, with the anti-gin propaganda being primarily driven by xenophobia (gin was Dutch) and the socio-economic upheaval presented by the working poor having a disposable income, and not from a concern for the public health of the ‘inferior sort’.
A richer and more enticing avenue is Hogarths love of Punch, the 17th century farther of the cocktail. Punch drinking is depicted in many of Hogarths works, indeed it is central to ‘Midnight Modern Conversation’ in which the aftermath of a gentleman’s punch party and is laid bare for all to see. We know from “Hogarth’s Frolic: The Five Day’s Peregrination Around the Isle of Sheppey of William Hogarth and His Fellow Pilgrims” that Hogarth was a fan of punch and that had a handsome china punchbowl which interestingly is cited in this volume as being in the collection of the Foundling Hospital. We also know from this slim volume that Hogarth was not averse to a drop of Gin.
So Punch it was to be, however an intriguing reference to ‘Milk Punch’ led us further on in our research and free-association thinking.
Punch – a drink combining citrus, sugar, spirit, water and spices – was available in England from around the 1650s and reached it’s apogee in the mid 18th century. The art of a good punch was the balance of sour to sweet and strong to weak. However it would seem regardless of how masterful the maker Punch tended to be quite citric, and if consumed in volume over a period of time could upset the stomach. The solution to this thorny problem was Milk Punch. Sounding somewhat disgusting to modern ears but being quite delicious, Milk Punch utilises whey as the ‘weak’ component which softens the citrus and imparts a subtle velvety mouthfeel.
Madam Genever to Mother Gin (as gin was known in the 18th Century) to Mother Punchbowl (a character in a Henry Fielding play, who was a great friend of Hogarth) to Mothers Milk: it seemed that all roads led to Milk Punch.
There was then the question of where to look for a recipe. Punch is a diverse drink with endless variations. The revered names of cocktail history – Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock – published recipes for Milk Punch, however we wanted something closer to the Foundlings Museums 18th century roots, and so we turned to Mary Rockett for inspiration, an English housewife who published a recipe for Milk Punch in 1711, giving the recipe some tweaks to accommodate gin and a modern palette.
Our Rocketts milk punch went down a storm at the opening and so we are bringing it to the Gin Club menu, along with a few other historic drinks, we hope you enjoy the results.
For history and art lovers, acclaimed artist Cornelia Parker made a limited-edition print from an eighteenth-century gin glass for the exhibition which is superb, and available from the Foundling for you gin and art lovers out there. We highly recommend a visit to the Foundling Museum, it is an amazing place.