One of my favorite movie quotes is attached with a magnet to the Thirsty Test Kitchen refrigerator. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence Odbody, the 292-year-old angel, is befuddled trying to order a drink, after living in Heaven and missing modern inventions like Scotch.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. I’ve got it. Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively.”
Nick, the bartender in the dismal world without George Bailey, isn’t having it. “Hey, look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast. And we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere.”
So, in honor of refrigerator magnets, let’s explore mulled wine, and throw in mulled cider so we can impress our holiday guests.
Mull means to study, ponder, and ruminate, which is great if you don’t have any holiday guests, but in the drink context, it means to heat and spice.
I discovered a unique and inventive way to make your own cider. First scrounge up some apples from under an old tree, the riper the better. If you have a cider press, which nobody does, use that. If you don’t, get a long, low plastic container, cut the apples up, put them in there, and place a thick cutting board on top of the whole mess. Carefully place the container of apples under the side of your car, near the tire. Get out your tire jack, put it on the board, and jack up your car. It works just like a cider press. Don’t forget to set the emergency brake.
To recap and summarize: go to Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs and buy some cider. While you’re there, pick up some mulling spices, which come in a big plastic jar that holds enough to make approximately 100 gallons of mulled cider.
Most mulling recipes call for some combination of cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fresh or dried oranges, nutmeg, and allspice. You could buy all that stuff, but your glass of mulled cider would cost $73. Most of that stuff and more is already in the mulling spices you buy at Reliable for $4.99. I made it that way, and it works just fine. Just add the spices to some cider in a heavy saucepan, and simmer over low heat until you can’t wait anymore. Use more or less spice mix to suit your taste. I used about two teaspoons per cup. After straining the hot cider through a coffee filter, pour it into fancy heatproof cups. Add an ounce of light rum if you wish. Garnish with a slice of apple or a stick of cinnamon and your holiday guests will think it’s a $73 drink.
Just for kicks, we decided to mull some cider and wine together. A Zinfandel, which goes with spicy food like pizza or burgers, seems appropriate to mix with the cider. I chose 7 Deadly Zins from the Central Valley region of northern California, which violates my first rule of buying wine: don’t buy wine because it has a clever label. Fortunately, it is also a good Zinfandel. For the hybrid drink, I went with the purist technique, simmering the liquid with a pod of star anise, cloves, fresh nutmeg, and slices of blood orange. Simmer gently, but not too long, or all the alcohol will boil out. Don’t want that. The result was pretty good, though I have a haunting feeling it would have been better if I had just dumped in the pre-mixed mulling spices.
Perfect these mulled drinks and you will have lots of friends come to your house on cold winter nights. Maybe Clarence will drop in.
“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.”