“Ho, varlets, out with you to the yard! Set the mulled wine on the blaze once more! There are travelers at the gate…”
Sir Nigel by Arthur Conan-Doyle (Strand Magazine 1905-6)
Image by Richard C Plaza
Although neither punch nor mulled wine are not mentioned in the Sherlockian Canon, I think it not unlikely that Mrs Hudson would have offered a jug of Christmas cheer to warm her lodgers during the chilly festive season. And where better to look for a traditional recipe than in Dickens?
I came across a reference to Charles Dicken’s punch, for which he gives detailed instructions in an 1847 letter to a friend’s wife, ‘Mrs F’.
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, 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.
A suggestion to skim off the lemon pips and place the jug (sealed with leather on top) in a hot oven for ten minutes, might, according to the text’s editor, set the punch afire and is not recommended.
A modern version of a traditional Victorian punch comes from Punch by David Wondrich (2010)
Rind and Juice of 3 Lemons
6 oz by weight Demerara Sugar Cubes
16 oz Pusser’s Rum
10 oz Remy Martin Cognac
40 oz Boiling Water
Yield: 8 Cups
Peel all three lemons with a swivel-head vegetable peeler, leaving behind as much of the white pith as possible
Add rinds, sugar, and spirits to a fire-proof bowl
Place a warm spoon of spirits over the bowl and light on fire
Slowly pour the flaming contents of the spoon into the bowl, igniting it
Let the contents of the bowl burn for 3 – 4 minutes, gently stirring occasionally (be careful not to put out the flame)
Cover the bowl with a lid or metal pan, extinguishing the flame
Add the juice of the lemons and the boiling water
Stir, cover for five minutes, and stir again
Place content of bowl into a loosely covered sauce pan and simmer on the stove for 15 minutes
We’ll leave the last word to Dickens.
“When Mr. Pickwick awoke next morning, there was not a symptom of rheumatism about him: which proves, as Mr. Bob Sawyer very justly observed, that there is nothing like hot punch in such cases: and that if ever hot punch did not fail to act as a preventative, it was merely because the patient fell into the vulgar error of not taking enough of it.”
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836)
Mrs Hudson portrait by Richard C Plaza