Serious Eats: Recipes
Charles Dickens's Punch
As always with our Drink the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl to give away this month.
I have an admission to make: I paid very little attention to the ingredients in this punch when I selected it. I had to make it when I found that, instead of making an oleo-saccharum, the lemon peels and liquor are ignited. That's right: you get to light a bowl of booze on fire! (Insert Beavis and Butthead imitation here.)
The bonus is that the resulting punch is delicious, though that is still superseded by the fun/danger combo of hot, flaming liquid--a concept not unfamiliar to this punch's progenitor. As Wondrich notes, Dickens "was known among his friends for his ritualized performance as he worked up a bowl of jug, complete with running commentary on his ingredients, techniques and progress." (Though, unlike Dickens's John Jasper in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the author omits the dash of opium from his drinks.)
The punch itself is simple to make, but you will need some special equipment to prepare it safely. Namely, you'll need an enameled cast iron pot with a lid to ignite the punch and extinguish it, and a long-handled bar spoon to transfer the initial flame to the pot. Always bring fire to the alcohol rather than the alcohol to the fire or you're going to be in a bad situation. Once the blaze is extinguished, however, Charles Dickens's Punch is also particularly versatile, as it can be served hot from the bowl or cooled over ice. In the name of science I sampled it both ways and found each preparation delightful--soothing when hot, refreshing when chilled.
The bright flavor of lemon comes through strongly in this preparation, as do the earthy, sweet-rich vanilla flavors of rum and cognac. Rum and cognac are frequent companions in the punch bowl, as they taste tremendous together. A good-quality rum and cognac are important, as punch really hinges on the flavor of the spirits--just as it does in a great cocktail. A nice aged rum like the Plantation Trinidad or Barbados (vintage 2000) make a lovely base; for the cognac, try Dickens's preferred Courvoisier VSOP or my preferred Pierre Ferrand Ambre.
Technical note: If you have trouble getting the liquor to light, fill your barspoon with an overproof rum like Wray & Nephew White Overproof or Bacardi 151. It will ignite easily and stay lit through the transfer to the pot of punch.
About the author: Marleigh Riggins Miller writes and photographs for SLOSHED!, a website about cocktails, spirits, home bartending, and entertaining.