Christmas is a time for caroling and traditional holiday classics like A Christmas Carol. Having always been somewhat food obsessed, my curiosity has always been piqued by the unique food and drink that I sing about and read about, but have no earthly idea what these concoctions actually are. Figgy pudding, anyone? (I don’t know what it is, but I know that we won’t go until we get some. Still waiting).
“Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green”. And here I go a-wondering, just what does wassail mean? Turns out it’s a hot and spicy fruit punch, which can be punched up a bit more with the addition of alcohol.
But perhaps the most curious of all has been the mystery of a “bowl of Christmas smoking bishop”.
At the very end of the beloved Charles Dickens holiday classic A Christmas Carol, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge and his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit share an oddly named libation:
“A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”
As it turns out, Smoking Bishop is an alcoholic libation. This clarification comes from a descendant of Charles Dickens, who conveniently wrote a book called Drinking With Dickens, thus solving the mystery. Following are two recipes, the original and the Americanized version.
Here’s Dickens’ “Smoking Bishop” recipe:
• Take six Seville oranges and bake them in a moderate oven until pale brown. If you cannot procure any bitter Seville oranges, use four regular oranges and one large grapefruit.
• Prick each of the oranges with five whole cloves, put them into a warmed ceramic or glass vessel with one-quarter pound of sugar and a bottle of red wine, cover the vessel, and leave it in a warm place for 24 hours.
• Take the oranges out of the mixture, cut in half and squeeze the juice, then pour the juice back into the wine.
• Pour the mixture into a saucepan through a sieve, add a bottle of port, heat (without boiling), and serve in warmed glasses.
• Drink the mixture, and keep Christmas well!