thFor a convivial drink to celebrate the New Year why not concoct a bowl of Mr. Micawber’s punch. He makes it not once, but twice, in David Copperfield, initially, when David hosts his first dinner party. The Micawbers–“Mr. Micawber with more shirt-collar than usual, and a new ribbon to his eye-glass”–are among his guests.

I informed Mr. Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch, and led him to the lemons. His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone in a moment. I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning rum, and the steam of boiling water, as Mr. Micawber did that afternoon. It was wonderful to see his face shining at us out of a thin cloud of these delicate fumes, as he stirred, and mixed, and tasted, and looked as if he were making, instead of punch, a fortune for his family down to the latest posterity.

And when it’s ready:

“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. My love, will you give me your opinion?” Mrs. Micawber pronounced it excellent. (From David Copperfield, Chapter 27)

The second occasion is on the eve of the Micawber family’s departure for Australia, when Mr. Micawber consents to compose “a moderate portion of that Beverage which is peculiarly associated, in our minds, with the Roast Beef of Old England. I allude to–in short, Punch.”

The Micawbers are already prepared for life at sea and in the Outback.

Mr. Micawber immediately descended to the bar . . . and in due time returned with a steaming jug. I could not but observe that he had been peeling the lemons with his own clasp-knife, which, as became the knife of a practical settler, was about a foot long; and which he wiped, not wholly without ostentation, on the sleeve of his coat. Mrs. Micawber and the two elder members of the family I now found to be provided with similar formidable instruments, while every child had its own wooden spoon attached to its body by a strong line. In a similar anticipation of life afloat, and in the Bush, Mr. Micawber, instead of helping Mrs. Micawber and his eldest son and daughter to punch, in wine-glasses, which he might easily have done, for there was a shelf-full in the room, served it out to them in a series of villainous little tin pots; and I never saw him enjoy anything so much as drinking out of his own particular pint pot, and putting it in his pocket at the close of the evening. (From David Copperfield, Chapter 57)

Mr. Micawber, so magnificently resilient and rhetorical, is based on Dickens’s father, John, also a master of the punch bowl. By the 1840s, the making of punch was fast becoming an outdated, old-fashioned custom but one his son loved. According to this Esquire article by David Wondrich, “When he was among friends, it was his custom to brew up a bowl of punch, complete with a running disquisition on the techniques he was using and the ingredients he was deploying.”

esq-holiday-punch-drink-1212-lgHere’s Charles’s  own recipe for making 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 hand-full 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 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. (From a letter to “Mrs. F.”–Amelia Austin Filloneau–January 18, 1847)

At the end of A Christmas Carol Dickens mentions another punch, made with red wine and oranges, called smoking bishop in reference to its deep red color, when he has Scrooge tell Bob Cratchit, “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!”

Although I haven’t tried either punch, I’ve seen  smoking bishop  on the menu  at Cavanaugh’s Dark Horse, where the Dickens Fellowship’s Philadelphia branch meets. If it’s still there at our next meeting, I’ll give it a try–after my talk.

Dickens Fellowship Meeting

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dutch-treat lunch, noon

Meeting, 1:15

Talk: Joan Kane Nichols, Dickens and Dogs

Guests welcome.

Cavanaugh’s Headhouse Square (formerly The Dark Horse)

Pickwick Room

421 South 2nd Street