Feeling a little bit of that post-holiday melancholy? Here’s one great way to lift your “spirits.”
Because while Christmas may be over, there are still plenty of culinary opportunities to continue the spirit of togetherness and cold-weather deliciousness all winter long.
Take for instance, the classic holiday beverage wassail. For a long time, I didn’t really know what wassail or “wassailing” was. From context, I’ve always taken it to be Christmas caroling, which is more or less correct in a modern sense. But the name itself derives from a drink of spiced, fermented cider consumed in medieval England and a related tradition in which toasts were made and songs sung at year’s end. Revelers would make their way through the village carrying a large bowl of the brew, stopping at houses to ask that their bowl be filled. The celebration ended with a gathering in the orchards where they would sing to the trees, encouraging a good cider apple harvest in the new year. Did I mention that the cider was fermented?
Traditional wassail, an aggressive melange of spices, cider, ale or sherry and eggs served with apples and toasted bread floating on the surface, can still be found, but has largely fallen out of fashion and evolved into what we commonly call mulled cider. The cider and spices remain, but the eggs are gone and the wet bread can’t seem to find a following these days. Depending on how you spike your cider, singing to the trees is optional.
Mulled cider is a popular libation for winter gatherings. This warm drink, driven by the flavors of the season, wards off the cold of winter and brings people together. Often spiked with rum, whiskey or brandy, this non-alcoholic version leaves the option of adding a little something “in the spirit” when serving.
1 teaspoon whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 slices fresh ginger, cut ¼” thick
¼ cup brown sugar
1 orange, cut into thin slices
Zest of 1 orange
2 quarts apple cider
Brandy, rum, or whiskey
Bundle allspice, cinnamon, cloves and ginger into a square of cheesecloth and tie tightly with a piece of string.
Place bundled spices, brown sugar, orange slices, orange zest and apple cider in a large, heavy pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Remove spice bundle before serving.
When serving, pour a shot (or two) of preferred liquor into each mug and top off with mulled cider.
Garnish with orange slices or cinnamon sticks, if desired.