Thursday, May 4, 2006
Remember ‘Delaware Punch’? There’s Now a Replica
By ROGER M. GRACE
Delaware Punch is back.
Well, sort of.
That distinctive, tasty, fruit-based beverage—once widely available and billed as “America’s SOFT soft drink”—has been missing from grocery shelves hereabouts for some years now. The brand is now owned by the Coca-Cola Company and has been virtually abandoned; it’s marketed only in Southern Texas and Louisiana.
What has recently become available in Los Angeles is a faithful duplication of Delaware Punch, sold under the name “Pennsylvania Punch.” While it is available locally, don’t bother to look for it at Ralph’s or Von’s. To get it, you’ll need to go to Highland Park, where Galco’s Soda Pop Stop is located.
Is this a counterfeit Delaware Punch, slyly sold with the name of another Eastern Seaboard state for sake of confusion? No.
Galco’s is owned by John Nese, a soft drink authority I’ve quoted in previous columns, who turned the Italian market on York Avenue once owned by his parents into a soft drink emporium. (Mortadella, Cotto salami, and such are still available at a refrigerated counter in the back of the store).
As Nese tells it, he was trying to add Delaware Punch to his stock of soft drinks and made inquiry of a veteran bottler on the East Coast as to the availability of that product. Nese recounts that he was subseqently told:
“John, I didn’t find Delaware Punch, but I got the recipe.”
The old-timer said he had located a 1924 recipe for the beverage which, Nese says, bore the word “Delaware” because it came from Delaware County in Pennsylvanvia.
Well, there is a Delaware County in Pennsylvania—and I’m certain that Nese believes the tale that it was from there that Delaware Punch derived its name. But it wasn’t.
The Delaware Punch Company of America was located not in the state of Delaware or Pennsylvania, but in Texas—San Antonio, to be exact.
Chemist Thomas E. Lyons developed the formula in 1913 and his partner, J. C. Rice, took charge of marketing the beverage, at first in syrup form. You’d add one part syrup to three parts water.
The name was derived from a prime ingredient in the syrup: Delaware grapes.
The drink quickly gained popularity. A 1923 article in a Texas publication, Lloyd’s Magazine (reproduced on the website of Alex Parker, a great-grandson of Lyons) said of the Delaware Punch Company: “Today its assets and sales mount into the millions; and with one exception it is the most successful business of its kind known to the soft drink industry.”
An Aug. 20, 1922 ad in a Wichita Falls, Texas newspaper said:
“Delaware Punch is being imitated, but the copy lacks entirely the ‘punch’ found in the original, that is, it has not the delightful ‘punchy’ flavor that has made Delaware Punch one of the most popular soft drinks on the market today.”
While it was a “soft drink,” it wasn’t a “soda pop.” Lacking carbonation, there was no “pop” to it. A 1927 letter from Lyons to “bottlers everywhere” (appearing on Parker’s website) reflects the use at that time of the slogan, “The only Nationally Known Sugar Beverage Bottled Without the Use of Carbonic Acid, Gas.”
Sugar was an essential ingredient. Use of sugar in Nese’s “Pennsylvania Punch,” along with other ingredients in the 1924 recipe, renders his beverage quite close to, if not a replication of, the Delaware Punch of “back when.”
Soft drinks then had sugar. Nowadays they’re sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, despite health concerns about that additive. I assume that Delaware Punch in those few areas of Texas and Louisiana where you can find it includes HFCS.
For a time, nostalgia soft drink outlets imported Delaware Punch (sweetened with HFSC) from Mexico. The importation has been stopped based on the presence of a food coloring found to be unsafe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
So, if you want what you knew as a kid as “Delaware Punch,” you need to go to Nese’s store. Just don’t expect the same price as when you were a kid. When I was downing it in the 1950s, it was a dime a bottle; if you pre-date me, you might remember it priced at a nickel. “Pennsylvania Punch” is $1.75 a bottle.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company
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