There’s a fabulous scene in the 1999 version of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge’s nephew plunges a red-hot poker from the fire into a large bowl of waiting wine. The bowl erupts into a steaming, spiced caldron of Smoking Bishop and the festive revelries begin.
Whilst the Victorian name ‘Smoking Bishop’ has slipped from our Christmas memory, the tradition of warming – or mulling – sweet, aromatic alcoholic drinks at Christmas remains. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a glass of mulled wine in front of the fire listening to carols.
The Victorians took their mulling seriously, and rather ‘ecclesiastically’. In addition to the Smoking Bishop, they had recipes for Smoking Archbishop, Smoking Cardinal and even a Smoking Pope, made with Claret, Champagne or Burgundy, respectively.
You can mull most drinks – cider and beer are both good – but personally I prefer the extra alcoholic punch from a red wine.
A heavy, fruit-laden red, such as a Pinotage or a Zinfandel, tend to have a higher alcohol content and take the honey and spices well. The optional extra of a slug of port or brandy is a bit of seasonal self-indulgence.
This recipe is one constructed from a number of original Victorian recipes. The charring of the orange adds a subtle caramelised undertone and honey adds a more complex sweetness than sugar.
It’s a great festive drink, with the flavours of Christmas running through it.
Cheers! And a Merry Christmas!
RECIPE: Smoking Bishop
1 bottle heavy red wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 stick cinnamon
2 star anise
Good scraping fresh nutmeg
Slug of port or brandy per person (optional)
Slice the orange into thin slices and place under a hot grill to char – but not burn.
Into a heavy-bottomed pan pour in the wine, add the spices and the charred orange. Stir in the honey as it warms. Use a minimum heat – the longer the better.
Place the lid on the pan – to keep the alcohol in – and warm gently, but do not boil. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.
Serve in a heat proof glass with a slug of the port or brandy. Drink in front of your fire, listening to Christmas carols and waiting for the sound of hooves on the roof.