Smoking Bishop is a warm mulled wine and port drink, sometimes known simply as ‘Bishop’. Out of all the mulled drinks around Christmas this one is my favourite. Bishop is made with oranges, or sometimes lemons, or sometimes both, with wine, port, spices and sugar, which is added according to taste – it received the name ‘Bishop’ from its purple colour, similar to a Bishop’s formal attire – and ‘Smoking’ comes from the vapours rising when it is being mulled or heated.
Although Jonathan Swift, in the late 1600s, wrote about it, in his verse ‘Oranges’, the drink itself was made famous when Charles Dickens has a reformed Scrooge say to Bob Cratchit, (at the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’, 1843) “… we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!” And indeed it is just the sort of drink you want to sit down with friends in front of a log fire with …
A Smoking Bishop is certainly full-bodied, and made with port (a fortified wine) it is at the top end of the mulled wine spectrum in terms of potency; although being made with bitter oranges and/or lemons it is also then sweetened to a preferred amount with sugar. I like it as it comes, tart and fruity, although I do serve Smoking Bishop to guests with a small bowl of sugar and a spoon so they can sweeten it themselves, as suggested in the 1836 recipe.
In terms of quality and character the monumentally aromatic and robust flavours of a Smoking Bishop hit the taste-buds at the back and the sides of the tongue, leaving the tip and center of the tongue devoid of any initial input into the equation – a sure sign of a hearty and ‘mighty’ mulled wine. One which will bring a rosy glow to the cheeks.
In a later edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’, published in 1907, E. Gordon Brown describes Smoking Bishop with the following passage: “The drink is made by pouring red wine, either hot or cold, upon ripe bitter oranges. The liquor is heated or “mulled” in a vessel with a long funnel, which could be pushed far down into the fire.” And in an edition of ‘Punch’, published in 1848, they highly recommend it as part of a satirical diatribe, “… both egg-hot and elder wine must yield in their elevating and invigorating properties to a good Bishop.”
The original recipes for Bishop are simple and direct, making a wonderful and tasty mulled drink which is easy enough to make up to serve straight away, or then cool, (re-cork in the empty bottles) to mature for a few days, before re-heating and serving. Maturing it for a few days takes the ragged edge off the Bishop, making for a very smooth and bright drink; although this in no way means it cannot be enjoyed after the initial mulling; the early ragged and piercing nature of a Bishop makes it in many ways a real ‘classic’ and a potent drink to enjoy on a cold night.
Smoking Bishop Recipe
This recipe will make enough for about 10 small glasses, double the ingredients to make a large punch bowl to serve around 20 people. It can also be re-corked in the wine bottles once cool and be re-heated and drunk in small batches over a few days.
You can use just oranges (older, bitter varieties) or just a few lemons (making it an Oxford University ‘Bishop’) although this recipe gives the right balance and authentic taste using 6 modern variety oranges and two lemons, which is then sweetened to taste with sugar.
- 6 large oranges
- 2 large lemons
- 120g of brown sugar (demerara)
- 1 bottle (750ml) red wine
- 1 bottle (750ml) ruby port
- 8 cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground mace
- 1 or 2 lemons, cut into wedges to serve
- 1 or 2 oranges, cut into wedges to serve
- optional – a grating of nutmeg over the top
- small bowl of white sugar for guests to individually sweeten the Bishop
The day before: bake the large oranges and lemons in the oven on a shallow baking tray (with a lip to contain any leaking juice) on a low heat at 120°C until they are pale brown (after about an hour and a half). If any liquid leaks from the fruit when baking pour this from the tray into the bowl with the fruit and wine.
After the fruit has baked in the oven stud the oranges and lemons with one of the cloves pricked into each, place into a large bowl, add the ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and mace. Add the sugar and pour in the wine – but not the port or the cinnamon sticks. Stir gently for a few minutes. Cover and leave in a warm place overnight or for 24 hours.
The next day: cut the baked oranges and lemons in half and squeeze all the juice into the spiced wine in the bowl. Do not worry about adding in the pulp and pips, this will be strained through a sieve next.
Pour this wine, fruit and spice mix through a sieve into a large saucepan, use the back of a spoon to press out the juice from the pulp in the sieve. Then add the cinnamon sticks. Heat the wine to a high simmer for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat under the saucepan and add the port and heat for 20 minutes very gently (so as not to boil away the alcohol). In the last two minutes turn up the heat to a medium simmer and get the Bishop ‘smoking’ hot with vapours rising.
Following the advice given in 1836, “sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it” – taste the Bishop and add in a little more sugar if it is needed. Although I prefer to serve it as it is and supply a small bowl of white sugar with a spoon so guests can sweeten their own Bishop.
When the Bishop is hot through and ‘smoking’ pour into a heat-proof punch bowl or serving jug (including the cinnamon sticks) with fresh cut wedges of lemon and orange, and serve in goblets, or heat-proof glasses, and drink warm – optional, take the advice from Eliza Acton in 1845, either grate a little nutmeg on top of the Bishop in the serving jug or bowl, or as I do, grate it individually on top of the Bishop in the glasses if people request it.
An Original Bishop Recipe 1836
‘Tales of the Table, Kitchen, and Larder’, By Dick Humelbergius Secundus, 1836
Among the ” Oxford night-caps,” bishop appears to be one of the oldest winter beverages on record, and to this very day is preferred to every other, not only by the youthful votary of Bacchus, at his evening revelry, but also by the grave Don by way of a nightcap. It is not improbable that this celebrated drink, equally known to our continental neighbours under the somewhat similar name of bischof, derived its name from the circumstance of ancient dignitaries of the church, when they honoured the university with a visit, being regaled with spiced wine.
RECEIPT, OR RECIPE, TO MAKE BISHOP.
Make several incisions into the rind of a lemon; stick cloves in these incisions, and roast the said lemon by the fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, mace, cloves, and allspice, and a race of ginger, into a saucepan, with half a pint of water; let it boil until it be reduced one half. Boil one bottle of port wine ; burn a portion of the spirit out of it, by applying a lighted taper to the saucepan which contains it. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a few nobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon; put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon, (not roasted) pour the wine upon it, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it.
Oranges, although not used in bishop, at Oxford, are, as will appear by the following lines, written by Swift [in the late 1600s] sometimes introduced into that beverage :—
Well roasted, with sugar and wine in a cup,
They’ll make a sweet bishop when gentlefolks sup.”
When this is put upon the table, there are few, we imagine, who would be found to say, “Nolo episcopari,” not even the Bishop of London himself.
An Original Bishop Recipe 1845
‘Modern Cookery’, by Eliza Acton, 1845
Note: Eliza Acton put this recipe in her cook book in quotes, showing it was taken from somewhere else, if you look at the earlier recipe above from Dick Humelbergius Secundus in 1836 you can see where she got it. She also recommends it can be made with Oranges, which is then not an Oxford Bishop. Eliza Acton also adds in a grating of nutmeg as well at the end.
OXFORD RECEIPT FOR BISHOP.
“Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon,* stick cloves in these, and roast the lemon by a slow fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, cloves, mace, and allspice, with a race of ginger, into a saucepan with half a pint of water : let it boil until it is reduced one half. Boil one bottle of port wine, burn a portion of the spirit out of it
* A Seville orange stuck with cloves, to many tastes imparts a finer flavour than the lemon.
by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan. Put the roasted lemons and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a few knobs of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon (not roasted), pour the wine into it, grate in some nutmeg, sweeten it to your taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it.”
An Original Bishop Recipe 1862
‘How To Mix Drinks’, By Jerry Thomas and Christian Schultz, 1862
A favorite beverage, made with claret or port. It is prepared as follows: roast four good-sized bitter oranges till they are of a pale-brown color, lay them in a tureen, and put over them half a pound of pounded loaf-sugar, and three glasses of claret; place the cover on the tureen and let it stand till the next day. When required for use, put the tureen into a pan of boiling water, press the oranges with a spoon, and run the juice through a sieve; then boil the remainder of the bottle of claret, taking care that it does not burn; add it to the strained juice, and serve it warm in glasses. Port wine will answer the purpose as well as claret. Bishop is sometimes made with the above materials, substituting lemons instead of oranges, but this is not often done when claret is used.
Bishop. (Another recipe.)
Stick an orange full of cloves, and roast it before a fire. When brown enough, cut it in quarters, and pour over it a quart of hot port wine, add sugar to the taste, let the mixture simmer for half an hour.
Archbishop: The same as Bishop, substituting claret for the port.
Cardinal: Same as above, substituting champagne for claret.
Pope: Same as above, substituting Burgundy for champagne.