Somehow I have managed to circumnavigate winter this year. This time last year I was in Sweden, slap bang in the middle of one of the coldest and most depressing winters of my life. My work hours meant that I never saw the very few hours of weak winter daylight that were available and it didn’t take me long to feel sicker and more lethargic than I can ever remember being. It almost felt like I was dying at times.
I’ve lived in snowy, wintery conditions before – in the Rockies in Canada for a season and for several years in Copenhagen – but this was somehow different. Maybe my work hours were different then, maybe I was outside more, maybe I was just younger. Whatever the reason, last year was BAD and I was not going to go through that feeling again.
So this year I prepared. I stocked up on vitamin D. I bought a sun lamp. I collected funky winter accessories to make wearing my snow coat feel more bearable. I made lists of all the good things about winter: steamy baths, hot drinks, sparkly snow… I was ready.
But it never happened! I was living in Sussex on the south coast of England before Christmas and bar the odd dramatic storm it was gloriously sunny and warm enough to forgo tights nearly every day. Then I came to London, which in January was experiencing one of the mildest winters on record. Even the daffodils were out. And when it finally started to rain, I was on my way to Rome, basking in 20c sunshine (while Romans were scurrying past in down jackets, much to my amusement).
One of the items that is now top of my list of Things To Enjoy About Winter is mulled cider. I absolutely love it. I have been enjoying gorgeous, crafted British cider for ages now, but had never really thought of trying it hot. I think I was put off by my experiences with mulled wine in Denmark – for my taste, overpowering and sticky with sugar.
Alcohol starts to burn off when heated in a liquid like cider, and I wanted to avoid this, so I made a flavoured syrup to add to the cider later on, using apple juice and mulling spices. This way the spices can simmer away gently in the apple juice for an hour or two, releasing their beautiful fragrance and distinctive, wintery flavours.
This syrup will keep for a week or so in the fridge and can be added to cider, whenever you’re ready to drink, the whole lot just warmed through. Then all you need is a couple of slices of winter fruit and an artfully floated star anise and you’ve got yourself a party!
- 20 white peppercorns
- 4 star anise
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 10 cloves
- 1 vanilla pod, split & seeds scraped or 1.5 tablespoons of vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 20 scrapes whole nutmeg
- 300ml apple juice, freshly squeezed if possible
- 1000ml high-quality dry cider
- Simmer all the spices and the vanilla pod (but not the extract if you are using it) with the apple juice on a very low heat for at least an hour. Keep the pan covered with the lid ajar - you don't want all the moisture to evaporate, but you do want the juice to reduce a little. If using vanilla extract, add it after you have finished simmering as the flavour is more fragile and will disappear in a long simmer. This spiced syrup will keep for at least a week in the fridge.
- When you want mulled cider, gently heat the syrup and cider in a pan until it is drinking temperature. Do not boil the cider as this will cause the alcohol to evaporate.
- Serve with pieces of sliced apple or citrus fruit.
- In the UK, cider is always alcoholic. Anything else is just apple juice. But I have a feeling this terminology does not hold true in the US - can any of my US readers clear this up for me?