Charles Dickens’s Punch

Adapted from Punch by David Wondrich

There are few things that are more Dickensian than a bowl of punch. A great lover of drink, Dickens wove spirits into his writing repeatedly and even conceived of his own punch, whose recipe he included in a letter to a friend, writing that it might make her “for ninety years…a beautiful Punchmaker in more senses than one.” A cheek-warming mix of cognac, rum, citrus and sugar, Dickens required this recipe to “cook” by setting the spirit mix on fire. We urge you to take care with this step to avoid any singed eyebrows.


Yield: 8 cups

  • 3/4 cup sugar (preferably demerara)
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 cups rum (preferably Smith & Cross)
  • 1 1/4 cups cognac (preferably Courvoisier VSOP)
  • 5 cups black tea (or hot water)
  • heat proof bowl or enameled cast-iron pot

Garnish: lemon and orange wheels, freshly grated nutmeg

  1. In the basin of an enameled cast-iron pot or heatproof bowl, add sugar and the peels of three lemons.
  2. Rub lemons and sugar together to release citrus oils. For more greater infusion, let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Add rum and cognac to the sugar and citrus.
  4. Light a match, and, using a heatproof spoon (stainless steel is best), pick up a spoonful of the spirit mix.
  5. Carefully bring the match to the spoon to light.
  6. Carefully bring the lit spoon to the spirits in the bowl.
  7. Let the spirits burn for about three minutes. The fire will melt the sugar and extract the oil from the lemon peels.
  8. Extinguish the bowl by covering it with a heatproof pan or tray.
  9. Skim off the lemon peels (leaving them too long in may impart a bitter flavor).
  10. Squeeze in the juice of the three peeled lemons, and add hot tea or water.
  11. If serving the punch hot, skip to the next step. If serving cold, cool punch in the refrigerator and, when cooled, add ice.
  12. Garnish with citrus wheels and grated nutmeg.
  13. Ladle into individual glasses.
Editor's Note

A heatproof bowl (enameled cast-iron is your best bet) and a heatproof spoon (stainless steel will do) are highly necessary to this process.