Monday, 9 February 2015

Literary Drinks Video 1: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Dear all,

Welcome to the associated blog of Thinking Plainly's first 'Literary Drinks' YouTube videos!


Dombey and Son
By way of introduction, this is the first in my new series of ‘Literary Drinks’. Working with Ruairi of ‘The Bonneville’ bar and restaurant and Gerard of ‘Moon in a Box’ productions we have set ourselves the task (but fun task... ) of creating a series of videos that examine literary drinks.

Dombey and Son jumped out at me from my bookshelves immediately. It is one of my favourite Dickens’ books and maybe because we had only just come out of the Christmas period when you cannot help but feel a little Dickensian (as someone who lives in London that is, I can’t vouch for the rest of the world… ) or perhaps because I felt that one should start with a classic, it seemed like a good place to begin.

My edition is from the Oxford World’s Classic series from Oxford University Press edited by Alan Horsman with notes and introduction by Dennis Walder, reissued in 2001. ISBN: 0-19-283990-X.

As a reader from London, when reading any classic, especially Dickens’ I have to say it is always fun to see places you know mentioned. This book is full of references to London because it centres around a retail, wholesale and exportation firm based in the City of London. If you haven’t seen my other blog where by I visit parts of London to research my novel you can click on this link to see my post on the City of London for a personal taste of just a small selection of sites (including a pub frequented by Charles Dickens himself): .

However, on top of that, because as I just said it concerns a wholesale business, from somewhere inside the recesses of my failing brain I thought I could recall descriptions of shipping and more importantly… shipping alcohol. Now, I am not here to give away what happens in the book by any means but as I re-read parts of the book those memories served me right. However, I had to choose from the many different drinks mentioned; wine, sherry, rum, punch, beer, champagne… two stood out for me, Port and Madeira.

I like port but I don’t think I have ever had Madeira so for selfish reasons Madeira is the one we looked at.


From Dombey and Son, edition mentioned above:

Page 41

Solomon looked a little graver as he finished his dinner, and glanced from time to time at the boy’s bright face. When dinner was done, and the cloth was cleared away (the entertainment had been brought from a neighbouring eating-house), he lighted a candle, and went down below into a little cellar, while his nephew, standing on the mouldy staircase, dutifully held the light. After a moment’s groping here and there, he presently returned with a very ancient-looking bottle, covered with dust and dirt.

“Why, Uncle Sol!” said the boy, “what are you about? That’s the wonderful Madeira! – there’s only one more bottle!”

Uncle Sol nodded his head, implying that he knew very well what he was about; and having drawn the cork in solemn silence, filled two glasses and set the bottle and a third clean glass on the table.

“You shall drink the other bottle Wally,” he said, “when you have come to good fortune; when you are a thriving, respected, happy man; when the start in life you have made to-day shall have brought you, as I pray Heaven it may! – to a smooth part of the course you have to run, my child. My love to you!”

Page 288

Day after day, old Sol and Captain Cuttle kept her reckoning in the little back parlour and worked out her course, with the chart spread before them on the round table. At night, when old Sol climbed upstairs, so lonely, to the attic where it sometimes blew great guns, he looked up at the stars and listened to the wind, and kept a longer watch than would have fallen to his lot on board the ship. The last bottle of the old Madeira, which had had its cruising days, and known its dangers of the deep, lay silently beneath its dust and cobwebs, in the meanwhile, undisturbed.

Drinking with Dickens

I had a stroke of luck when reading this book. As with all research you tend to go to that magical place of Googleland on occasion (only on occasion of course… ) and I stumbled across a wonderful book called Drinking with Dickens written by none other than Dickens’ great grandson himself, Cedric Dickens. It is a lovely book full of warm anecdotes of Cedric’s and Charles' life, Victorian recipe’s and importantly, Dickens’ own recipes. I won’t go into it here to spoil the fun (and possibly to give away future drinks) but I’ll give you the link here should you wish to learn more.

For this video we used a wonderful recipe contained in 'Drinking with Dickens' that Dickens himself wrote in a letter and which he called Moonbeams for Summer Drinking. Although the letter is in relation to Bleak House it contains Madeira and so this is the recipe we used. Here is the core of it for your reference:

Moonbeams for Summer Drinking

  • 10 wine glasses of Madeira
  • 2/3 wine glass brandy
  • 4 wine glasses water
  • Add peel of a small lemon cut thin.
  • Sweeten to taste.
  • Grate nutmeg over the surface.
(Although we used smaller measures as didn't need to drink that much at 10am! Ours contained 100ml Madeira, 25ml Brandy and 40ml Water) 

Having the expertise of Ruairi of The Bonneville to hand we couldn’t leave it at just that. He came up with a modern Madeira cocktail that we could try and here it is:

Bosom Caresser
(If that isn’t a name Dickens would have loved I don’t know what is!)
  • 10ml Grenadine
  • 20ml Triple Sec
  • 20ml Madeira
  • 75ml Brandy
  • An egg yolk
I really would have loved to have tired Negus and Porter too but perhaps another time… in fact, I’m sure in future videos we will come back to Dickens again. There is so much to explore that it would be criminal to ignore the many other drinks, especially with this fantastic guide to hand.

So that is it for now. Hope you enjoyed our first video. We are learning and experimenting as we go so remember this is just for fun and if you have any recommendations for books we should look at, and drinks you would like to see made, please let us know!

Take care,


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