Oleo Saccharum

Sugared lemon and grapefruit peels sweat in the sun.

Sugared lemon and grapefruit peels sweat in the sun.

Below the pebbly skin but above the white pith of a citrus fruit is a thin but concentrated layer of fragrant oils. This oil can be squeezed out by bending or muddling the zest, but when given a little time and heat next to sugar — oil leaps out of the peel, so much it will make a syrup!

Just a fancy term that means "oil sugar," oleo saccharum (or just oleo) is tart, fragrant and sweet; everything you'd want in a good, strong summery drink. Just by sniffing the bag, you’ll be pleased with your efforts.

But of course citrus isn't the only produce with volatile oils in it; why not throw in some herbs and berries too? Grapefruit-blueberry, lime-basil, lemon-orange-strawberry-mint... Going off-book can be scary, but oleo is so delicious there are few notions that won’t work. While shopping, let your eyes be your guide. With some creativity and good sense, you'll have the unique accent for a lovely homemade punch.

  • Lemon/Lime = ¼ cup sugar

  • Orange = ⅓ cup sugar

  • Grapefruit = ½ cup sugar

And it goes with most anything young: silver tequila, light rum, bourbon whisky... Punch was invented for the strong spirits of the 17th century, so the rougher the better. You can always adjust to taste before guests arrive but I’m always a fan of mixing strong. Ladle it into an ice-filled glass and give a stir to help start the dilution. It’s also smart to have cold seltzer water for people who want something a bit on the dry side.

Oleo is one of those places where you should just go wild, but below is one of my favorite concoctions. Feel free to sub out fruits or spirits or liqueurs for whatever flavor you prefer. The portions remain mostly constant, punch-to-punch.

Pink Lemon Punch

For the lemon-raspberry syrup:

For the punch:

  • Silver tequila — 1 bottle
  • Domaine de Canton — 1/2 bottle
  • Lemon juice — 1 cup
  • Lemon-raspberry syrup — 6 to 8 oz (to taste)

For garnish:

  • Lemons — 4
  • Pineapple — 1
  • Raspberries — 1 cup

The day before, slice the four garnish lemons into thin wheels. Core and skin the pineapple; turn half into wheels and chop the other half into cubes. For the garnishes, use a bundt cake pan as an ice mold. If you have no punch bowl, use oversize ice cube trays instead. Line the mold with lemon and pineapple wheels, then dot with berries. Fill with filtered water and set to freeze overnight. Fill a bag with the pineapple cubes and excess lemon peels, raspberries and freeze that as well.

Thoroughly wash all fruit before proceeding. Peel eight lemons, avoiding as much as the white pith as possible (a Y-peeler is best for the job). Juice and strain the eight lemons, then seal them in a jar and place in the fridge for later use. In a sealable plastic bag (vacuum bags are best) add the raspberries, lemon peels and sugar. Remove as much air from the bag as possible and seal it. With a muddler, gently press the raspberries and the peels for a minute and then let it sit out somewhere warm and sunny for four to 24 hours. When the sugar is completely dissolved, strain into a jar and wash the bag out with a bit of water to get all the oils and sugars. Seal and refrigerate.

On the day, in a punch bowl, combine all punch ingredients. Remove the ice block(s) from their mold(s) and add to the bowl (or pitcher). Also add the frozen fruit and keep a ladle for your guests to grab fruit and punch. Serves a dozen, but don't blame me if it's all gone within the first two hours.