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Recipe: 'Charles Dickens' Punch'

Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) Of The Flowing Bowl



Peel into a very strong common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner's peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin, and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double-handfull [sic] of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass full of brandy -- if it not be a large claret-glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. [L]et it burn for three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to Time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again. At this crisis (having skimmed off the lemon pips with a spoon) you may taste. If not sweet enough, add sugar to your liking, but observe that it will be a little sweeter presently. Pour the whole into a jug, tie a leather or coarse cloth over the top, so as to exclude the air completely, and stand it in a hot oven ten minutes, or on a hot stove one quarter of an hour.  Keep it until it comes to table in a warm place near the fire, but not too hot. If it be intended to stand three or four hours, take half the lemon-peel out, or it will acquire a bitter taste.  The same punch allowed to cool by degrees, and then iced, is delicious. It requires less sugar when made for this purpose. If you wish to produce it bright, strain it into bottles through silk. These proportions and directions will, of course, apply to any quantity.

SOURCE : Letter from Charles Dickens to "Mrs. F." (Amelia Austin Filloneau),

January 18, 1847


Use an enameled cast-iron pot for the "common basin," or at least something heatproof. Six ounces of demerara sugar should do -- particularly if you can get the sort that comes in rough cubes. Use 20 ounces of rum and 6 of Courvoisier VSOP cognac (the brand Dickens kept in his cellar) to be  authentic, or 16 ounces of rum and 10 of cognac if you don't want the brandy to get completely lost in the mix; for that rum, I find a sixty-forty mix of Pirate Juice and Planter's Best styles works well here, although you can also go all out and deploy something in the Reverend Stiggins's Delight line. Indeed, Dickens's cellar also held a number of bottles of "fine old pine-apple rum" (the good reverend's favorite), which may be approximated by combining 12 ounces Smith & Cross

Jamaican rum and 20 ounces Angostura 1919 rum in a sealable jug along with an eighth of a pineapple, sliced, for a week; strain, let the solids settle, siphon off the clear rum and bottle.

Whatever you do in the way of rum, the fire will melt the sugar and extract the oil from the lemon peel. Dickens's advice about lighting the spirits from a spoon is extremely sound: always bring the fire to the alcohol, not the alcohol to the fire. (And a stainless steel spoon is fine -- anything but

pewter or, God forbid, wood or plastic.) The rest of his advice is also sound, as befits a man who was an acknowledged master of the art. The water should probably be an imperial quart, or 40 ounces.

YIELD : 8 cups (more than "three pints," but who's counting?).

From Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich. Copyright 2010 David Wonderich. Excerpted by permission of Perigree Trade.

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