The Claret Cup is a type of punch that was all the rage in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cups were traditionally served before the departure of a hunting party but were popular at celebrations, garden parties, picnics, cricket and tennis matches. Jane Austen wrote about the Claret Cup in Pride and Prejudice and it was also a favourite drink of Charles Dickens.
Cups are generally lower in alcohol content than other punches and usually use wine, cider, sloe gin or liqueurs as the base. They often include quantities of fruit juices or soft drinks. One well known cup nowadays is the Pimms Cup but in the past everybody had a recipe, with unique additions, that made “the best Claret Cup”. The basic recipe is red wine, lemon, sugar and carbonated water. Some add spices, bitters, sherry, fruit juices, liqueurs, brandy, champagne, rum or whisky. Borage or cucumber is the traditional garnish.
Fresh borage has a cucumber-like fragrance and when steeped in water, it imparts a coolness to it and a faint cucumber flavour. Its flowers are edible and are often used in salads, soups, ravioli and teas as well as in punches and sangria.
In Victorian times gardeners grew borage under glass all year round for the express purpose of flavouring claret cups. The plant originated in Aleppo in Syria and was brought to Europe by the Moors. Roman soldiers used to drink wine steeped in borage to give them courage when preparing for battle and it was reputed to lift your spirits and improve your mood.
Dickens’ Recipe for Claret Cup
“Put into a large jug, 4 or 6 lumps of sugar; give the preference to 6. The thin rind of a lemon, leave it to stand for ten minutes and stir. Add a wine glass of brandy, then a bottle of claret, then a half bottle of soda water. Then stir well and grate in nutmeg. Then add the ice. If borage be used for this cup, half a handful will be found quite sufficient. Stir well, before serving.”
1 bottle Claret (red Bordeaux wine)
1 bottle Soda Water
1 glass Curaçao (orange liqueur)
1 glass Brandy
2 tbsp Sugar
Garnish with borage, strawberries and grapes