IT WAS CHRISTMAS in the home of Ebenezer Scrooge, and he was beside himself with preparations. For Bob Cratchit was coming, and his wife and children with him, so there would be mince pies, and roast pigeon, and savory jellies of all sorts (how Scrooge remembered the fish jellies of his childhood!). And of course, as he’d promised Bob, there would be Smoking Bishop.
Smoking Bishop: the festive libation of Scrooge’s youth. It was a merry concoction, a type of rich mulled wine made from port and red wine sweetened lightly with sugar and roasted Seville oranges, dotted with the warming spices of the season. He remembered fondly Christmases at old Fezziwig’s house, when that very punch would be served in a vast, fluted glass bowl in the shape of an upside-down bishop’s mitre — though Scrooge always suspected the name was more due to the fact that, in some more boisterous company, one referred to port wine itself as “bishop.” The question came up yearly, and never was quite settled, though everyone agreed the concoction had its origins in Medieval days, and that quite satisfied their taste for history.
The punch itself would be prepared that day by Mrs. Bowncible, the floridly buxom widow that Scrooge had just taken on as a housekeeper to banish decades of cobwebs from the corners of his home and fill them instead with the roaring fires and steaming treats that his new lease on life demanded. He had sent her to the fruit stall to purchase the necessaries for enough punch for six: three or so Seville oranges (though any orange would do, in a pinch), a couple of lemons, cinnamon sticks, ½ cup of brown sugar (more or less), a sprinkle of nutmeg and a handful of whole cloves. Scrooge himself dropped by the wine merchant’s for the bottle of ruby port (young port, not tawny, for this purpose) and the bottle of red table wine the recipe demanded.
And now the house, so long a mere coffin for Scrooge’s shriveling humanity, was as headily perfumed as a pomander ball with the scent of the citrus fruits (which Mrs. Bowncible had cut in half and then studded with the cloves) roasting in a pan in the oven (at 350 degrees F, for 45 minutes to an hour, until slightly charred). Even Scrooge could not resist the occasional boyish peek in the oven door as the fruit turned brown, though Mrs. Bowncible did box his ear (playfully, of course) for “letting out the heat,” and Scrooge briefly reflected that perhaps one did not necessarily need to be a bachelor for the whole span of one’s natural life.
“Would you not prefer Smoking Pope?” she had asked him. But that variation of the so-called “ecclesiastic” punches was made with burgundy, which Scrooge did not care for; nor was he amenable to Smoking Archbishop (made with claret), Smoking Beadle (ginger wine; too cheap) and certainly not Smoking Cardinal (made with Champagne, which, to Scrooge, seemed a very odd thing to drink warm). No, it had to be Smoking Bishop, the drink of his red-cheeked youth, and favored Christmas tipple of the middle-classish subjects of her majesty the queen.
“Though I doubt he can tell the difference, when all’s said and done,” muttered Mrs. Bowncible good-naturedly as she poured the entire bottle of red table wine into a great copper pot. She then pulled the roasted fruit from the oven, slightly blackened and “smoking,” as the name suggested. She added the oranges and the spices to the wine and brought it to a simmer for 20 minutes (whisking a bit to dissolve the sugar) before straining it through a fine-mesh sieve. Then, at the last moment, she added the entire bottle of port and brought it all back to a simmer, and then for a second time did the eponymous “smoke” appear.
To serve, she poured it into a great glass punch bowl in the upside-down hat-shape called for — purchased just that day for the purpose — and brought it out to the table, hot steam rising from its glossy red surface, to a round of raucous and giddy applause eclipsed only by the joy that attended the great jiggling trout in aspic that followed.