Serves a Crowd

Updated Charles Dickens Punch

December  5, 2016
Photo by fiveandspice
Author Notes

The original version of this recipe was written by Charles Dickens (yes, that Charles Dickens) in a letter to a friend. It was later published in the book Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich (isn't that a fantastic book title, by the way?). The original punch calls for combining sugar and lemon peels to extract the oil from the peels—this is called an olea saccharum. To this you add a substantial amount of rum and brandy and light it on fire. You finish the punch with water or tea and a squeeze of lemon juice. I've updated the recipe to suit my own tastes a little better—I reduced the amount of sugar, swapped the proportions of rum and brandy, and supplemented the tea with some apple cider. I definitely did not omit the fire step. —fiveandspice

  • Serves 12
  • 1/2 cup sugar or demerera sugar, if you have it
  • The peels (no pith) from three lemons
  • 2 1/4 cups brandy (recommended: Courvoisier VSOP)
  • 1 cup rum (recommended: Smith and Cross)
  • 4 cups brewed strong black tea
  • 2 cups fresh apple cider
  • Citrus wheels and freshly grated nutmeg to garnish
  • A big ice cube or ring for serving in the punch bowl
In This Recipe
  1. In an enameled Dutch Oven or heatproof bowl, rub the lemon peels into the sugar with your fingertips. Set this aside for 30-60 minutes to let the sugar leech the citrus oils out of the lemon peel. Juice the lemons and set the juice aside.
  2. Stir the brandy and the rum into the sugar and lemon peel mixture. Using a long-handled metal spoon, scoop up a spoonful of the alcohol. Carefully (CAREFULLY) use a match or lighter to light the spoonful on fire. Then, gently lower this into the rest of the mixture to start the whole bowl on fire. Sit back and enjoy the heat and glow of your fire for one or two minutes, then use a pot lid to cover the fire and put it out.
  3. Take off the lid and pour in the tea, apple cider, and the juice from the three lemons. You can serve the punch hot, but I prefer it cold. To do this, strain it into a punch bowl over a large ice cube. Allow to chill for a few minutes, garnish with lemon and orange wheels and a grating of fresh nutmeg, then serve.

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.