What is a Smoking Bishop? You may like me be partial to a glass of mulled wine or even cider flavoured with festive spices like ginger and cinnamon. You may even have been wassailing if you live in certain parts of the United Kingdom. However, have you ever tried a Smoking Bishop? Now you may think that I have been smoking something, but I kid you not. In Victorian England they were very partial to a number of festive punches with curious religious names. The greatest chronicler of the era Charles Dickens himself refers to the drink in A Christmas Carol.
“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 bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”
What is a Smoking Bishop?
A smoking Bishop then is a type of mulled wine fortified with port and made with roasted Seville oranges, sugar and cloves. There is a whole family or congregation of similar spiced punches together known as the ‘ecclesiastics’. These included Archbishops, made with claret, Cardinals, even Smoking Popes made with the finest Tokay or Burgundy wine. The church warden or beadle had to make do with ginger wine diluted with tea!
There is thought to be an element of anti-Catholicism in the irreverent names but there is no clear evidence for the associations. The smoking part of the name probably stems from the steam rising from the cup of hot wine. The bishop part may refer to the purple colour pf port reflecting the robes worn by bishops. There is a theory the word bishop was a code word for port in nineteenth century England. The name could also be derived from the bowls used in European guildhalls and universities for serving similar drinks. These were shaped like the tradition bishop’s mitre.
Why Port Wine?
The ecclesiastics are not really popular now and it’s not hard to see why with the price of fine wine. But a quaffable bottle of port is not going to break the bank. Port is probably the most iconic of English Christmas drinks and has long been a favourite tipple with the English in general. Reputedly drank as rebuke to Napoleon the true reason for the English love of port is much more basic. As a result of a series of trade wars in the seventeenth century the import duty on claret, the red wines of Bordeaux, became prohibitive apart from only the fabulously wealthy.
Enterprising English merchants soon sort out alternatives to what had been the mainstay of the English cellar. They started to import more wines from Spain and Portugal. Indeed, the Treaty of Methuen, a key mercantile trading agreement secured the Portuguese a whopping two thirds reduction on the rate French wines were then taxed at. By the time A Christmas Carol was published the English were not only shipping Port but were major landowners and producers around the Douro River wine producing region. Today names such Taylors and Symingtons reflect this heritage and Port wine is almost an important Christmas tradition as Dickens himself.
A very good recipe for Smoking Bishop
- 1 Medium sized pan and a fine sieve
- 6 bitter Seville Oranges if unavailable use 5 Oranges and 1 Lemon
- 1 bottle good Red Wine
- 1 bottle Ruby Port
- 125 gr Golden Caster Sugar
- 10 Cloves
- 5 blades of Mace
- 3 Cinnamon sticks
- Preheat your oven to 325 F / 170 C / Gas mark 3. Wash and dry the oranges, and lemon if required. Stud the oranges with the cloves and place in a baking tray. You do not need to roast the lemon. Roast the prepared oranges for an hour, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- When cool cut in quarters and place in a pan with the remaining ingredients, squeezing out the juice from each piece. You can leave this for a couple of hours covered with a lid to steep.
- Gently heat until it starts to smoke ( steam )but do not boil. Remove from the heat and strain into heat proof glasses and serve.