What the Dickens: How to smoke a bishop

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!

Recipe for “A Smoking Bishop”
Taken from “Drinking With Dickens”, published in the US by New Amersterdam Books, NY’Port was the base for a number of drinks: “we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop.” Bishop seems to have been a very popular drink, and no wonder. I discovered it many years ago and it quickly became a traditional winter party drink. Not only is its taste exquisite, but equally its medicinal qualities are great. You can feel it doing good. Temperatures go up, from the top of the head (bald heads turn red) right down to the toes.’

Ingredients
For an American version

  5 sweet oranges

  1 old fashioned grapefruit

  1/4 lb sugar to taste

  2 bottles cheap strong red wine

  1 bottle ruby port

  cloves

How It’s Done
Bake the oranges and grapefruit in the oven until they are pale brown and then put them into a warmed earthenware bowl with five cloves pricked into each. Add the sugar and pour in the wine – not the port. Cover and leave in a warm place for about a day. Squeeze the oranges and grapefruit into the wine and pour it through a sieve. Add the port and heat, but do not boil. Serve in warmed goblets and drink hot.

 And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!””

 

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