Originally posted 10 October 2012
Charles Dickens enjoyed a good cup of rum punch – he wittily shared his own recipe in a letter to his cousin, and his books include many characters who enthusiastically drank it. Dickens also gives us a portrait of someone who took great delight in making it – Wilkins Micawber, the impoverished but optimistic clerk in 1850’s David Copperfield.
I informed Mr. Micawber that I relied upon him for a bowl of punch, and led him to the lemons. His recent despondency, not to say despair, was gone in a moment. I never saw a man so thoroughly enjoy himself amid the fragrance of lemon-peel and sugar, the odour of burning rum, and the steam of boiling water, as Mr. Micawber did that afternoon. It was wonderful to see his face shining at us out of a thin cloud of these delicate fumes, as he stirred, and mixed, and tasted, and looked as if he were making, instead of punch, a fortune for his family down to the latest posterity.
The ecstatic concentration of a great bartender or chef has rarely been so well expressed. Micawber and his creator were both a bit behind the times – punch was beginning to fall out of favor and be replaced by individually mixed cocktails – but in Dickens’ pages we can relive the joy of a good bowl of punch properly made.