I first encountered mulled cider at a bonfire party in Devon. My head was turned by its seductive, spicy aroma as its tingling warmth spread from my boots to the roots of my hair. It truly was a "road to Holcombe Rogus" experience, converting me from mulled wine on the spot.
Considering how baked apples and apple crumble scale heavenly heights with the merest hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest, perhaps these spices are better suited to cider than wine. But mulled cider is no flash in the pan.
Wassailing the apple trees – beating drums and singing songs to scare evil spirits from the orchard – is a midwinter festival predating Christmas.
Traditionally, the celebrants drank hot, spiced cider from a wassail bowl ("waes hael" is Anglo-Saxon for "good cheer"). This recipe (below) for appley anti-freeze, with a splash of calvados, will thaw you to the core.
- 1½ litres farmhouse cider
- ½ litre apple juice
- 200ml Calvados
- 3 apples, peeled
- 1 orange
- 10cm cinnamon stick
- 5cm piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 tsp allspice berries
- 2 tbsp sugar (to taste)
- 10 cloves
Use traditional still farmhouse cider; nothing bland or fizzy.
Pour the cider, apple juice and Calvados into a large stainless-steel or enamel pan (aluminium and copper impart a metallic taste).
Stud one peeled apple with 10 cloves; core and slice the other two apples into eighths. Remove the zest from the orange with a peeler and squeeze its juice into the pan (oranges and lemons look pretty; but too much pith is horribly bitter. Zest is best). Add the fruit, spices and sugar.
Heat gently for half an hour, keeping a careful eye on the pan so that the cider doesn't boil. Use a heat-diffusing mat if necessary. Never allow the drink to boil, as the alcohol will evaporate. It should be gently warmed to the point where you can just bear to stick your finger in it.
Taste as you go, especially for sweetness. Demerara sugar adds a caramelised quality, or you could use honey.
If you feel the need, all the fruit and spices in these recipes can be removed with a slotted spoon. But first ask yourself, do you struggle with the fruit in Pimms?