Charles Dickens' Christmas Drinks


This Christmas, we wanted to add some literary spice to your drinking.

Part of what made Dickens's work come so vividly to life was his attention to small details in small lives. This Christmas, you too can drink like Scrooge and Cratchit.

1. "Charles Dickens's Own Punch"

The man himself wrote the instructions for his eponymous punch in an 1847 letter to one "Mrs. F." (aka Amelia Austin Filloneau):

Peel into a very 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 handful of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass of good old brandy; if it be not 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. Let it burn 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.

This would be the punch that young David Copperfield offers Mr. Micawber:

“But punch, my dear Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, tasting it, “like time and tide, waits for no man. Ah! it is at the present moment in high flavour.” (Chapter XXVIII - Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet)

2. "Smoking Bishop"

"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!" (A Christmas Carol)

Smoking bishop was not actually a Dickensian creation. It was a popular tavern drink, which Dr. Johnson defines as "a cant word for a mixture of wine, oranges and sugar." I'd give you the recipe but there's a variety on the web, from Jonathan Swift to Dickens' own father.

3. "Negus"

"Mr. Feeder, after imbibing several custard cups of negus, began to enjoy himself." (Dombey and Son)

Negus might be found all over English literature (Jane Eyre drinks it when she heads to Thornfield Hall, it features at a Mansfield Park party, and it's ALL OVER Dickens).

But the definitive version comes from Mrs. Beeton herself, who describes it as "a beverage usually drunk at children's parties." If that were the case today, I imagine children's parties would look a hell of a lot like Buster Bluth on grape juice:


Let's just say, the drink's not exactly virgin. Per Mrs. Beeton:

INGREDIENTS: To every pint of port wine, allow 1 quart of boiling water, ¼ lb of sugar, 1 lemon and grated nutmeg to taste.

DIRECTIONS: Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to ¼ lb) on the lemon rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use.

Enjoy your Dickensian drinks, and a happy holiday to all!

This entry was posted on and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can leave a response .

Leave a Reply

Powered by Blogger.