Toasting Boz’s Bicentennial

As the two-hundredth anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birthday draws nigh, pre-bicentennial celebrations are already underway. Most recently, the New York Institute of Technology hosted a conference featuring several eminent Dickens scholars:

Commemorations of Dickens’s life will soon abound in his homeland and across Europe, as this helpful website announces:

If you find yourself farther afield from these metropolitan amusements, all is not lost. Follow Charles Dickens’s own instructions for creating a libation that is sure to lead to an authentic celebration, wherever you may find yourself.

Dickens sent his personal recipe for punch to Amelia Fillonneau on January 18, 1847, with the following sentiment: “I send you, on the other side, the tremendous document which will make you for ninety years (I hope) a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one.” I echo Boz’s wish to you, JVC reader, with one caveat: keep a fire extinguisher on hand.



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.

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 that 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 grow 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.

–The Letters of Charles Dickens, 1847-1849. Vol. 5. Eds. Graham Storey and K. J. Fielding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981:10.

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