This Christmas Punch recipe comes from a letter written by Charles Dickens in 1847 and it is often called, ‘Charles Dickens’s Very Own Christmas Punch’. It is a great Christmas drink, and quite a spectacle, if you set the brandy alight before serving. In fact it is a delightful, if strong, Victorian winter drink that Charles Dickens recommends as part of the festivities, using both rum and brandy flavoured with lemon.
Although this Punch is perfect for a Christmas Party, traditionally very many early Punch recipes did not add in any spices as we do today, so the best way to present this drink is to pour it into glasses and serve it warm, as it would have been. This is certainly a great favourite of the various Christmas Punch recipes for many people but when making this there are two notes of caution: a heat-proof punch bowl and glasses are essential, and you want to be cautious when playing with fire, because nothing ruins Christmas faster than burning down the tree or the house.
In an 1847 letter Dickens gave the following recipe
Recipe: 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.
Charles Dickens’s Very Own Christmas Punch
Makes around 10 – 15 glasses full.
- 1000 ml (1 L) bottled mineral water
- 700 ml of dark rum (one bottle)
- 350 ml of brandy (half bottle)
- 500g natural brown sugar (Demerrara)
- 3 large lemons – grated zest and juice
- optional – 6 lemons sliced into several thick wedges
- optional – grating of nutmeg
- optional – a cinnamon stick in each glass to stir
Put the rum, mineral water, and sugar into a large saucepan. Heat this punch mixture in the pan on a low temperature for 10 minutes, do not allow the punch to boil, but stir continuously to dissolve the sugar.
After 10 minutes add in the brandy and the zested (fine grated) lemon peel from 3 large lemons, then cut them in half and add all the lemon juice from them (strain through a sieve to catch the pips). Gently warm for another 10 minutes, again do not allow the punch to boil.
Optional – prepare some glasses. Add into the bottom of each glass one or two lemon wedges, remove any obvious pips when slicing the lemons. Add a cinnamon stick to each glass, to stir and flavour the punch. Take a small grater / zester and put it with a whole nutmeg to grate over the drink in the glass when filled. Take these glasses to the table where you will serve the Christmas Punch
Whilst still hot add the heated Punch mix from the saucepan into a heat proof punch bowl and take it to the table. Dim the lights.
Into a large metal ladle pour in some brandy (do not overfill the ladle). Ignite the surface fumes of brandy in the ladle with a long lit wick (keeping both away from you) and slowly pour the lit brandy, just above the Punch, igniting the surface of the punch. When ready stir well with the ladle and extinguish the flames.
Serve in glasses that are heat proof to warm liquids: Either serve the Christmas Punch plain, as Dickens’s Recipe states, or with a lemon wedge, cinnamon stick and a grating of nutmeg.