Post by Alison Hein.
Merriam-Webster describes the act of mulling to mean “to heat, sweeten, and flavor (as wine or cider) with spices.” The origin is stated as “unknown” (although speculation abounds out there on the web), and the first known use supposedly occurred in 1618 (if anyone can identify this, please let me know!).
Despite the confusing and sometimes misleading archaeology of food history, one thing is certain. It’s autumn, and apples are in peak season. Sweet, rounded juicy red- and green-skinned fruit, rendering tree branches low, beckoning to be plucked and devoured. So of course I dragged my husband out to do just that, returning home with several sweetly scented baskets of apple varieties – ranging from baking tart to noshing sweet. A couple of gallons of fresh-pressed cider made my purchases complete.
Now back to the mulling. Apparently, we’ve known for quite some time (at least since 1618) that adding a little spice, and a little heat, can ratchet up that glorious sweet-tart apple flavor. Some fresh cider, a little cinnamon, a handful of whole cloves, and perhaps a splash or two of brandy, and you’ve got a soothing drink that will delight both young and old.
If you’re out and about, be sure to stop by your local apple orchard. Then, if you’ve got 15 minutes or so, whip up a pot of steaming mulled cider. It makes a sweet after school welcome for kids (without the brandy, of course), a surprisingly satisfying after dinner treat, and a sweetly scented, late harvest breakfast in bed.
2 cups fresh apple cider
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 small apple
A splash or two of brandy (optional)
Pour fresh apple cider into a small, heavy pot. Add one cinnamon stick and cloves. Slice the apple into a few slim rounds, and add apple slices to cider mixture, retaining two rounds for garnish. Bring cider to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain cider and pour half into each of two mugs. Make a cut halfway across the retained apple slices, and slice onto the rim of each mug for garnish. Add a cinnamon stick to each mug. Serve hot and add a splash or two of brandy to the cider, if you like.
Makes two servings.
Variations: add fruit such as orange or lemon peel, try sweeteners from honey to maple syrup, experiment with alcoholic additives like flavored brandy, port or whiskey.