As temperatures fall, one of the coziest ways to drive the chill away is with mulled cider, or apple cider slowly simmered with spices until it brims with warmth-inducing tang.
While there are many, many recipes for mulled cider, it's no surprise that the main ingredients in all of them are the traditional "warming" spices—allspice, cinnamon and clove. These spices are known for their pungency and bite, perfect for cooking in a cold climate.
Other spices with similar flavor notes are often added to the mix, including cardamom pods, dried ginger, nutmeg, peppercorns and star anise. Most recipes also call for orange peel, either fresh or dried.
Mulling cider grew out of the medieval ritual of wassailing, or adding spices to cider and/or various alcoholic beverages as a way to chase away the dark and cold at year's end. (Mulled wine, first concocted by the ancient Romans, is still a wintertime favorite.) The wassail would be served out of a communal bowl, accompanied by singing and general merry-making.
Today, the communal bowl is definitely a no-go. But the scent of cider slowly mulling on the stove is still enough to make most anyone breathe deeply and sigh in contentment.
As with all spices, make sure your mulling blend is fresh—last year''s leftovers just won't have the same zing. You can break up the cinnamon sticks (vastly preferable to ground cinnamon) by placing them in a large zip-close bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or heavy pot.
Traditional Mulled Cider
1/2 gallon fresh, unfiltered apple cider
2 tbsp whole allspice
4 cinnamon sticks, crushed
2 tbsp whole cloves
2 tbsp finely chopped crystalized ginger (optional)
2 whole nutmeg
Zest of 2 oranges
Yields 8 cups
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.