Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth. While the English novelist is best known for the invention of such memorable (and memorably named) characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, and Miss Havisham, the literary giant was almost as famous in his day for another creative talent: punch making. He served punch at the countless parties he hosted, taught guests proper punch concoction technique, and frequently invoked the punch bowl in his books.
With punch in vogue today, and popping up on the menus of pedigreed cocktail bars across the country, we're honoring the memory of Dickens by serving up a version of the author's own invention. The following recipe is drawn from a letter Dickens wrote to a friend in 1847, promising that it would make her, "for ninety years (I hope) a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one."
TO MAKE THREE PINTS OF PUNCH
"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 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. Let 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."
Notes: Make this in a large metal pot. As for how to translate a "double-handfull" of sugar, David Wondrich, author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl recommends six ounces of demerara sugar. Regarding the amount of rum, note that a British pint means twenty ounces. A wine-glass is equal to about two to four ounces, although we'd recommend using five to six. And don't worry about the jug...just keep it in the pot on the oven for fifteen minutes.