Saturday, December 25, 2010

Channeling Charles Dickens With a Bowl of "Smoking Bishop"

If you're anything like me, you probably look forward to your annual holiday reading of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol a little too much. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I practically have it memorized by now. Being the foodie that I am, I also have been very interested in the few edibles and potables that are mentioned throughout the novel, for instance the item mentioned in the following quote:

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!
Now... until just recently, I had no idea what "Smoking Bishop" even was. However, thanks to life in the internet age, it wasn't too hard to find out. It's actually a mulled wine punch that has a lot in common with wassail. The odd-sounding name comes from the Dickensian habit of applying clerical names to different alcoholic beverages. For instance, Burgundy was known as "Pope", Champagne was "Cardinal" and Claret was "Archbishop". The "Bishop" in this particular libation happens to be Port.

To the best of my knowledge, no one even drinks this anymore, because the recipes I could find were very old and apparently date back to the 1800's. However, I'm pretty old-fashioned myself, so that actually only made me want to try this all the more. The following is the recipe I used. It makes approximately 15-20 servings. Your fruits will need to steep in the wine overnight, so be sure to get started 24 hours in advance.

  • 5 standard-sized oranges (unpeeled)
  • 1 grapefruit (unpeeled)
  • 30-40 cloves
  • 1/4 lb of sugar
  • 2 bottles of strong red wine (I used Shiraz)
  • 1 bottle of port

Just FYI, I adjusted my proportions a bit. I wasn't making this for a party or a ton of family and friends. I was just whipping up a batch for myself and Seth to enjoy while we went about our Christmas Eve holiday prep activities. I wound up using two navel oranges and one smallish ruby grapefruit instead of all the fruit the original recipe calls for. Hopefully, it also goes without saying that I cut the proportions of the wine and sugar accordingly as well.

The first order of business is to oven-roast the fruit. The original recipe I found naturally didn't specify a cooking temperature since I'm pretty sure people's 19th century wood-burning stoves didn't come with those handy dials we all know and love. That said, I winged it and set my oven to 375. I'd say I had my fruit in there baking for about an hour, but your experience may differ. Put your fruits in a baking dish of some sort and bake it at that temperature until they're all brownish in color. Turn them a couple of times during baking so that they roast evenly for best results.

When your fruit is done baking and cool enough to handle, use your cloves to prick the surfaces of the skins like so. Then place in a ceramic or glass bowl. Add the red wine and the sugar, but not the port. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place for the next 24 hours. I just left mine on the top of my stove so the ambient warmth from the pilot light could keep it toasty all night.

The next day when you come to check out your fruit, they will have soaked up a lot of the wine just like fragrant little sponges. The entire concoction will also smell wonderful -- like citrus and spice. Very holiday like! Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out all of the juice and wine it's absorbed. Then strain the mixture into a decent-sized saucepan to help remove some of the seeds, pulp and loose cloves that have gotten into your wine. 

Add your port at this point. Then heat the entire mixture gently until it's warm and steamy. Don't boil it! Just heat it up. It actually will produce quite a lot of steam that really does look oddly like smoke. When it's ready, pour it into a serving dish and ladle into warm mugs or glasses. 

This was really a very enjoyable holiday cocktail. It was warm and soothing. It was spicy, fruity and fragrant. It was also pretty strong thanks to the port, so you don't need a whole lot of it to be satisfied. I imagine this would also be a pretty cool conversation starter if you're serving it to others at a party, considering it's the same punch from A Christmas Carol. Make sure you tell people what a historic cocktail they're drinking for Christmas. God bless us, every one!
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