The Twelve Drinks of Christmas: Volume 2, Drink 12
It is funny how we think of things in the past. It seems like our pictures of folks in history usually paints them as serious people, dealing with the serious business of just being alive in times less, ummm, civilized than our own. Maybe it is because our forebears tend to look so grave in those early portraits, maybe it is because we lack the imagination to see them as humans, just like ourselves finding their way through their own unprecedented times. I do love how that view sometimes gets turned on its head. For example, later in his life, Sir Isaac Newton, having discovered calculus, sorted gravity and retired from teaching, was appointed Master of the Royal Mint, a mostly ceremonial position. However, frustrated by counterfeiters, he took to disguising himself and hanging around taverns in order to catch and convict these treasonous fellows. Yeah, Sir Isaac Newton, in his later years, would dress up and go drinking in disguise in order to capture hardened criminals, for fun. So, keep your minds open and remember that folks then were much as folks are now as we stand and make Charles Dickens Punch.
This is an awesome drink that really ticks a bunch of boxes for me. First off, I am a big fan of punches, punchbowls and huge servings. They have sort of fallen out of fashion now, but they used to be quite a thing. This one was actually created by Charles Dickens himself. It appears that when he was not busy writing “A Christmas Carol – In Prose – Being a Ghost Story of Christmas”, or any other number of local boy makes good stories, he was in the habit of throwing parties and serving punch. This recipe for his favorite punch to serve was found in a letter that he sent to Mrs. Amelia Austin Filloneau and it is a doozy. Did I mention that there is fire involved? Cause there is totally fire involved, Dickens Punch en flambé! Let’s put this one together and make these spirits light!
Grab a bowl and add the peel from 3 large lemons, try to get as little pith as possible. Add 3/4 of a cup of Demerara sugar, stir it all up, cover and let sit overnight. We are basically working up an oleo saccharum, letting the sugars extract all those awesome citrus oils from the peels. The next day, make four cups of black tea, using your usual method and set that aside. Now, grab a pot and place it on your cooktop before adding your oleo saccharum lemon mixture including the peels, 2 cups of pineapple rum, I chose Plantation Rum’s Stiggins Fancy Pineapple, because it is named for a Dickens character, but you can infuse your own; 1 cup of Cognac, I used Hennessy. Stir over low heat for about 5 minutes being careful not to boil and remove from heat. Now the danger begins. Seriously, be careful here, we are about to set the whole thing on fire and you are going to be surprised at how high the flames will rise, so make sure nothing is above the cooktop to catch afire, including your face and sleeves. Also, be sure to have a tight fitting lid that you can use to smother the fire and maybe make sure that kitchen fire extinguisher is handy, just in case. I am serious, no burning your house down and then blaming me. The usual method for setting a bowl on fire involves skimming a little out in a metal dipper or spoon and set that on fire with a long match before slowly pouring it back into the pot to set it all ablaze. We are going to let those glorious blue flames rise into the night for about 3 minutes, carefully stirring occasionally. After 3 minutes you have burned off enough of the alcohol and caramelized things nicely, so grab that lid and pop it on the top to remove oxygen from the equation to extinguish the flames. With the flames safely gone, add the juice from your 3 lemons and all four cups of black tea to the pot whilst stirring. I love saying whilst, it feels so fancy. Turn the heat back on low and warm things up. You want to serve this warm, but not boiling hot. Like most alcoholic drinks served warm, too much heat will make the alcohol jump to the front and not in a good way. I had access to a fancy punch bowl, so I picked out the lemon peels before transferring the whole mixture to a pre-warmed antique Dehavilland Limoges hand-painted punchbowl with 24 kt gold leaf. I mean seriously, look at that thing. I can’t believe mom let me pull it out of the cabinet, but hey it was Christmas and she is big on things being used. If you have access to a big fancy china punchbowl don’t forget to pre-warm it. After being super careful with this one while hand washing it, I nearly poured steaming hot punch in there. I am pretty sure that introducing the china to thermal shock was not the kind of Christmas miracle mom was looking for. With your punch safely transferred, drop some lemon and orange wheels in there for garnish and serve in matching punch cups, with a dehydrated orange wheel for garnish.
This is so good and isn’t it elegant. I mean on some level this is just sweet tea and lemon with some caramelized cognac and pineapple rum added and there is nothing in the world wrong with that. Like I said, the temperature is really the make or break thing here. If it is served too hot, that alcohol all comes to the front, but as a warm pick me up this one is nearly perfect and just so fancy?
I can see why Dickens loved this recipe, it is wonderful, but it is kind of interesting that he loved punch at all. By his time it had actually fallen out of favor and when he made it for his parties he was using “vintage” punchbowls and cups to serve his guests. I just want you to imagine that for a moment. The famous author in all of his Dickensian splendor is pulling out antique serving pieces and making “lost drinks” from yesteryear for his friends. Sounds an awful lot like something I or any number of my friends, would do now. You know to be sorta eccentric, in a fancy way. It makes me wonder if old Charlie was rocking a man bun up under that top hat. If you are doubting this image for a moment, please allow me to remind you that his favorite drink to serve guests required him to dim the lights and set the whole damned thing on fire and he leaned into that drama, allegedly. Yeah, he was extra and I kind of love that. So, you keep the season in your fashion and let me keep it in mine and if that means dressing up and going over the top for your friends, well, at least you will be in good company. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay festive! Merry Christmas, my friends!