“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
There are many films on my annual Christmas watch list... It's a Wonderful Life, Home Alone,The Nightmare Before Christmas (even though Oogie Boogie still creeps me out). Also on this list are two of my absolute favourites - Scrooged and The Muppet Christmas Carol - both brilliant takes on Ebenezer Scrooge and his terrifically eventful Christmas Eve.
Like most of Dickens' work, there are innumerable mentions of food in A Christmas Carol: Scrooge's meagre supper before the ghostly visit from Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Present sitting amongst delicious twelfth cakes and, of course, the famous goose. It's the final scene I wanted to celebrate here though; I love the magic of Scrooge's transformation, and the moment he shares with Bob Cratchit on Christmas morning. Though my first experience with the story (featuring Michael Caine, Kermit and Miss Piggy) led me to believe that the story ends with a feast - and a song - at the Cratchit's on Christmas Day, the original story is a little more intimate. It's Ebenezer greeting Bob as an equal, and inviting him to share 'a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop'.
I love mulled wine, and find as many excuses as possible to drink it during December. Smoking Bishop is a very special one; it's port based, which is a great start, and heady with citrus and spice. For a Christmas Eve treat, I've adapted Eliza Acton's Victorian era recipe and have also included the text of the original below, which was just too lovely to leave out. It's perfect for Christmas Eve - I'll be curling up with a mug of this and a copy of A Christmas Carol later this evening.
Serves 2 (generously)
One stick of cinnamon
3cm thumb of ginger
1tsp allspice (or five crushed allspice berries)
325ml red wine
2tsp granulated sugar
Two serving glasses
1. Heat your oven to 190C. Stick ten cloves into the orange (use the skewer to pierce holes for them first), and place it in the oven for around half an hour, or until it's lightly browned and filling your kitchen with a strong scent.
2. Place the cinnamon, ginger, allspice, mace and the rest of the cloves in a small saucepan with 280ml water. Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce until around 125ml. Allow the spice mix to steep for ten minutes and then sieve into a jar. Tie the muslin square over the top of the jar to act as a very fine strainer.
3. Pour the wine and port into the medium saucepan and place over a low heat. Once hot, light a match and, very carefully, place it to the top of the liquid. The wine should ignite with a blue flame. Allow it to burn for a few seconds and then blow it out. Pour the spiced water into the wine, and add the orange from the oven. Keep over a low heat for around ten minutes.
4. To serve, place the sugar in a bowl and roll one of the clementines in it. Squash it around until the sugar turns orange, then divide the sugar between two glasses. Squeeze the juice from the clementine and divide it between the glasses as well. Slice the second clementine into thick slices and place one in each glass. Ladle the hot wine into the glasses, stir, then grate a little nutmeg over the top. Serve while still piping hot.
The original recipe from Eliza Acton's 1845 book Modern Cookery.
Make several incisions in the rind of a lemon, stick cloves in these, and roast the lemon by a slow fire. Put small but equal quantities of cinnamon, cloves, mace and allspice, with a race of ginger, into a saucepan with half a pint of water: let it boil until it is reduced by one-half. Boil one bottle of port wine, burn a portion of the spirit out of it by applying a lighted paper to the saucepan; put the roasted lemon and spice into the wine; stir it up well, and let it stand near the fire ten minutes. Rub a knob of sugar on the rind of a lemon, put the sugar into a bowl or jug, with the juice of half a lemon (not roasted), pour the wine into it, grate in some nutmeg, sweeten it to the taste, and serve it up with the lemon and spice floating in it. Bishop is frequently made with a Seville orange stuck with cloves and slowly roasted, and its flavour to many tastes in infinitely finer than that of the lemon.