For Fourth of July, we usually throw a little get-together with friends to watch the fireworks from our apartment. We happen to face the big show the mall puts on, and although we’re only half way up the building and part of the view is blocked by other buildings, we still get a decent look at how the merchants of Ala Moana are burning up their money each year. You can check out a few more fireworks photos from this year by clicking on this one below.

Ala Moana 4th of July fireworks. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Over the years, we’ve gotten smarter about what we serve so we aren’t stressed-out party hosts. Key lessons learned: serve food that tastes great when made ahead and reheated (e.g. slow-cooked meats) and batched drinks.

Normally, we do a sangria based on the recipe from Hudson Yards (now closed) in Mix, Shake, Stir. But this year, I really wanted to make a carved watermelon punch bowl. I know. I’m a nut.

Okolehao Watermelon Punch. © 2013 Sugar + ShakeIt would have been far easier if I just followed a punch recipe, but I decided to come up with my own. Because carving a watermelon wasn’t going to complicate my life enough. (Helpful tip: It ain’t as easy as a pumpkin.) I originally had ambitious plans for making watermelon-gin gelatin “ice” cubes (yeah, that’s just fancy talk for square Jello shots) to go in the punch glasses, but I abandoned that plan when I realized how much time—and room in the fridge—it was going to take up. Both in short supply with a weekday Fourth.

After some experimenting, I came up with this ‘Ōkolehao Watermelon Punch. ‘Ōkolehao is “Hawaiian moonshine,” made from the ti plant. It packs a pretty stiff punch and, interestingly, has a lingering taste of bananas. (There aren’t any in it.) There are a couple of places making it: Haleakala Distillers and Island Distillers. The former makes what’s actually an ‘ōkolehao liqueur (it’s labeled as such on the bottle), whereas the latter—what I used for this punch—is made truer to the original recipe. Allegedly, the name “‘ōkolehao,” which translates as “iron bottom,” comes from the shape of the pots once used to make the spirit.

While researching punch ratios, it seemed that most contained a base spirit, one or two liqueurs, a juice or soda and sometimes a syrup and/or wine/bubbles. I used the ‘ōkolehao as the base and added watermelon juice, maraschino liqueur, a raspberry-rose cordial and prosecco. The small tasting sample I made was a bit of an ass-kicker, but somehow when I made the full-size batch it ended up more mellow. In fact, it was very easy-drinking. Scary easy.

Fourth of July fun at the Sugar + Shake house. Punch time! © 2013 Sugar + Shake

I meant to post this right after July 4th, but obviously things have gotten away from me. There’s still plenty of summertime left, though, so go find yourself a watermelon!

Watermelon punch bowl tips:

If you’re going to be a nut like me and carve the watermelon, it’s your choice if you want to do it while the watermelon’s whole, or after you’ve hollowed it out. I did it while hollowed out, but I really can’t say which would be easier. To make the flower designs on mine, I used a rubber mallet and a metal cookie cutter and gave the cookie cutter a few thwacks to imprint the pattern lightly on the melon skin. Then I used linoleum cutters and pumpkin carving tools to etch the flowers in.

If you’re using the watermelon as a punch bowl, be sure you get one that will stand up on its end without toppling over. You may need to carefully flatten the end, but watermelons are slippery and the skin’s pretty tough, so BE CAREFUL.

Okoleohao Watermelon Punch: All this, plus prosecco. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

‘Ōkolehao Watermelon Punch

Consider this recipe a “base unit” and multiply to fit the size watermelon you have. Or, skip the watermelon and make it in a large pitcher or normal punch bowl. I used a smallish, 18-pound watermelon (water weight’s a bitch) and the punch filled it about ¾ full.

Start the punch process the night before so the mixture has time to mellow and the watermelon “ice” has time to freeze.

  • 1 smallish watermelon (or buy the pre-cut chunks from the supermarket)
  • 1 750ml bottle prosecco, chilled
  • ¾ cup ‘ōkolehao
  • ¾ cup maraschino liqueur
  • ¾ cup Belvoir Raspberry & Rose cordial
  • 1½ cups watermelon juice, strained (made from the above watermelon)

Reserve a good amount of watermelon to freeze and use as “ice cubes” so your punch doesn’t dilute. (Eat them after the punch is gone for a nice boozy snack.) I cut mine with a cookie cutter to make cute shapes. Cubes are totally fine for the less crazily-ambitious.

Purée watermelon and strain using a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter. You need 1½ cups of strained juice per “base unit” of punch. (You can save the purée solids to put into smoothies, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Combine ‘ōkolehao, maraschino liqueur, raspberry-rose cordial and watermelon juice in a container. Mix and refrigerate overnight, or at least a few hours.

To serve, put the frozen watermelon “ice” into the watermelon punch bowl. Add the punch mixture and then the prosecco. Stir with a wooden spoon and serve.