How to add some tasty punch to your July 4th celebration

LLakeside, mountainside, beachside or right in your own backyard, a picnic is a summer tradition.

Many of us are planning a picnic or alfresco dining to celebrate the July 4 holiday.

The food can be as simple as sandwiches, or burgers and hot dogs, served upon the quintessential Americana-red-and-white-checkered gingham or plastic cloth.

Or, it could be a multi-course culinary extravaganza serving up epicurean delights, presented on fine china and paired with wine, served in glass stemware. One couple set a candelabra as the centerpiece on their beautiful quilted blanket at an open-air performance I attended. Their setup added to the romantic setting on that hilltop.

At many picnics, alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are served from punch bowls. Curious to learn about the history of the punch bowl, I picked up a copy of Kimberly Whitman’s book, “Parties Around A Punch Bowl,” (2018, Gibbs-Smith, $21.99). Whitman, a lifestyle and entertaining expert writes, “One of the best things about punch is that you can’t mess it up! It is meant to be mixed together, tasted, adjusted, and added to during the party. Punch is an evolving concoction that continues to change until the party is over.”

Some historians believe punch began in India in the 17th century, where punch bowls were first used. Five ingredients, a liquor, sugar, lemon, water and spices or tea were the recipe for the first punch. Paanch is what it was called since it means “five” in Hindi. Punch bowls are made from various materials and available in all price ranges; from plastic and glass, to porcelain and silver. Those who want to be creative can make their own punchbowl from a watermelon.

Whitman’s book not only includes recipes for punch, but other delights, you might want to try this summer and throughout the year. She creates festive party ideas, organized around a punch bowl: an Easter egg hunt, a classic blue and white party, a fall gathering, a holiday breakfast coffee, and for other seasonal occasions.

If you are looking for the perfect picnic spot in Connecticut check out: Old Lighthouse Museum, Stonington; Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam; Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic; DiGrazia Vineyards, Brookfield; Kent Falls State Park, Kent; People’s State Forest, Barkhamsted; Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Norfolk; Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison; Sleeping Giant State Park, Hamden; Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill; Saltwater Farm Vineyard, Stonington; Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven; Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford.

Kicky watermelon punch

1 large watermelon, reserving melon balls

1 25-ounce bottle raspberry Bellini (author uses Trader Joe’s)

1 64-ounce bottle Watermelon Cooler

1 20-ounce bottle sparkling mineral water (author likes Topo Chico)

1 33-ounce bottle sparkling limeade

Limes and oranges, sliced, for garnish

Lay the watermelon on its side and cut off the top fourth of the stem-end of the melon. Then begin carving out the inside of the melon. (Be careful not to puncture the sides or bottom of the watermelon or you will have quite the mess on your hands when you pour in the punch.) I like using a Parisienne scoop for making small watermelon balls, which I freeze and use later to keep the punch cool and add as a garnish. Once you have completely removed the inside of the watermelon, pour all the liquid ingredients into the carved-out watermelon punch bowl.

Add the frozen melon balls as desired. Float the lime and orange slices in the bowl for a pretty effect. Serves 25-30*

* The watermelon can only hold so much, but the recipe will serve more than the melon can hold.

With the leftover watermelon, I make a purée in the food processor, adding a little lime juice and a pinch of sugar. I either add it to the punch or freeze it as pops. Kids really like it.

As with all punches, this one is flexible. If you want a stronger punch, add your favorite liquor, such as vodka or tequila.

For a kid-friendly twist, leave out the Bellini and add lemonade and/or the watermelon purée.

Margarita punch

1 ½ cups Casa Dragones Blanco tequila

1 bottle lime margarita mix (author uses Trader Joe’s)

1 bottle Mango Bellini (author uses Trader Joe’s)

1 cup lime juice

½ cup simple syrup

16 ounces sparkling mineral water

Mango and lime slices for garnish

Mix all ingredients, except garnishes together. Be sure to add the mineral water last, to preserve the fizz. Garnish individual cups with mango and/or lime slices.

Mango guacamole

This slightly sweet and salty guacamole served with tortilla chips is a delectable theme pairing for margarita punch.

2 avocados

1 mango

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh tomato

1/4 cup lime juice

Combine all ingredients together and serve with tortilla chips or in bell peppers. Makes about 3 cups.

Author’s tip: If you are looking for a different way to serve your dips, look no further than the mini bell pepper. Slice the bell peppers in half lengthwise and fill with your favorite dips or fillings, such as chicken salad, pimento cheese, or guacamole. If you want the guests to use chips with their dip, then shift your presentation a little bit by using big bell peppers. Cut the tops off and remove the seeds, fill the peppers with your favorite dips, and scatter the chips around the peppers on a serving platter.

Consiglio’s Cooking Demonstration and Dinner: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). Learn how to make Focaccia topped with figs, pinenuts, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola; shredded Brussels sprout salad; macaroni and Fontina, bay scallops and pesto bread crumbs; and burnt caramel pots de crème.

Kids Cooking Camp-Ciao Italia: July 9 through 13, 10 a.m.-noon, Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $200. Reservations 203-799-2665. During this 5-day camp experience, your young chef (ages 5-11) will participate in hands-on classes under the guidance of expert chef instructors. Campers will be creating and eating recipes each day that focus on Italian foods. Same class is offered for teens from 1 to 3 p.m. For menu and other classes visit

Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner: “The 13th of Friday-Summer Edition”” July 13 or 27, doors at 6 p.m., dinner and show at 7, Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $65 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening as you enjoy a 3-course meal. The cast mingles from table to table, dropping clues for a mystery that only you can solve.

Worth Tasting Culinary Walking Tour: 10:45 a.m. July 21, four-hour culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven. 8-9 stops at some of New Haven’s favorites. You won’t be hungry after this tour. Reservations required, tickets at 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $64.