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This year's cider has been particularly delicious. Crisp, sweet/tart and fresh tasting, I can quaff it by the quart. The weather has been steadily growing colder, though, and the forecast predicts frost in places tonight. No matter how lovely the cider is, contemplating long, chilled swallows of it crosses the line from refreshing to downright shivery.

When the weather is so bracing that my beverages are better temperate, I start thinking of mulled cider. It's easy to make, easy to drink, and good hot, cold, or in-between.

I have three recipes for mulled cider which vary in complexity and intensity. There's the mildly spicy "everyday" cider which I make when no one else wants any, the heavily spiced variety I serve at holiday time, and a medieval recipe which I've made in the past. I'll go from easy to complicated since those who want the easy stuff won't want to read that far.

First things first, always make mulled anything in a non-reactive pot. Included in this category are stainless steel, enameled steel, pyrex or Corning ware, and enameled cast iron. Pots with an intact non-stick coating are OK as well. Do not use an aluminum, copper, or cast iron pot as the acidity will eat away at the metal and your drink will become unpleasantly metallic in flavor.

Second, the recipes work equally well for wine and other fruit juices such as cranberry or grape and pear juices. I wouldn't use anything red for the last recipe, however. And yes, if you want to add a shot of whisky to your mulled cider, feel free. But it's lovely, hot and sweet without it. Of course, you could cut out the middle man and just make this with hard cider.

Third, these recipes are guidelines and you should fine tune them to your own preferences. For instance, lemon zest is a excellent addition to mulled wine. Also, keep in mind that the process is mulling and not wetting some spices in a cup of hot cider as some restaurants seem to think is acceptable. The spices need to steep for a while to taste right.

Basic Mulled Cider
This recipe is very light tasting and slightly less acidic. It's also quick and easy to make and uses the least number of ingredients.

1-2 part(s) water
2 parts orange juice (or just use cider)
4 parts cider
cinnamon stick - a 2 inch long or so quill for up to a quart of cider
whole allspice - approximately 2 per cup of liquid.

Put all of this in a saucepan. Make sure there's at least an inch of space left at the top of the pot. Bring just to a boil and then immediately turn it down to a simmer. Remove it from the heat if you have to to prevent it from boiling over. Keep an eye on it, as it will foam as it gets hotter and boil over if it doesn't cool down in time.

Let the mixture simmer for at least 15 minutes, longer if you like a spicier and sweeter brew. Or let the mixture cool to room temperature with the spices intact and reheat single servings later. The cinnamon stick will sink to the bottom of the pot and not cause any problems. If the allspice bothers you floating about the top of your cup, simply scoop them out with a spoon as they migrate to the edge.

Richly Mulled Cider
This is what I used to make all the time before I got lazy. It needs to steep longer and is only worth it if you're going to make enough for everyone. It's the kind of mulled cider you can have going on the stove all day, adding more fresh cider and a bit of orange juice as the level starts dropping.

Another thing I've done is use half as much cider, or let it steep overnight at room temperature and use it as a mulled cider base. This is particularly handy if you're going to have guests or such and want to make it in advance but not have to store gallons of mulled cider. Simply mix some of the base with fresh cider, heat and serve.

2 quarts cider
1 c. water
juice of 2 oranges, valencia or juicing oranges if you can get them
zest from the oranges, removed with a vegetable peeler in big strips
2-3 large slices of fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks approximately 2" long
1 tsp or so whole allspice
2 whole cloves

Put all of this in a large pot. Bring just to a boil and then immediately turn it down to a simmer. It will froth, so don't let it boil over. Simmer at a low temperature for at least half an hour. Taste it, and if it's too strong add a bit more cider. If it's too sweet and strong, add a bit of water and cider. It's easy to avoid the spices with a ladle, most of them will sink to the bottom of the pot.

To use it as a base, leave out the water, let it simmer until it's reduced by about a quarter and then let it cool to room temperature. Once it's cool, store it away spices and all overnight; in the refrigerator is best, but it can sit out for a night. After a night of steeping (at least 8 hours), strain out the spices and orange zest and discard them. The base can now be stored in the refrigerator and added to taste to fresh cider and heated, or brought out for a party, etc. It will keep for a week or so.

Lamb's Wool
When I was an undergraduate I double majored. One of my programs was Medieval Studies and I got to take some highly entertaining classes. One was a half-semester course called Medieval Food and Entertainment. We focussed much of our attention on learning how medieval food tasted.

To tell the truth, the medieval food of the wealthy is far too spicy for most modern tastebuds, and I don't mean heat. I'm talking pepper, allspice, cardamom, ginger, cloves (my god, the cloves!), and the combination of sweet and savory is a bit alien to our palates as well. Mincemeat with actual meat in it is probably the closest anyone still gets to what would be considered "the good stuff" in a medieval kitchen.

This cider is a little less strange, and I find it quite pleasant. A layer of cooked apples and whipped cream float on the top, the "lamb's wooly" of its name, and the cream helps temper the acidity of the cider. This recipe is adapted from Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A calendar of celebrations by Madeleine Pelner Cosman (Charles Scribner and Sons, New York, 1981, pp. 130-131).

1 gallon cider (this can also be made with dry white wine, light ale, or stout)
1/2 c. sugar if the cider is too tart
1/8 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. ginger, ground
12 small apples, peeled and cored
2 c. heavy cream or whipping cream
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar

Bring a quart of the cider, the apples and spices to a boil and then cook at a vigorous simmer until the apples fall apart and are floating in a froth of loose pieces.

Meanwhile heat the rest of the cider to very warm but not boiling while the apples are cooking. When the apples are frothy, pour the warm cider into your serving vessel, and then add the spiced apple mixture.

Whip together the cream, salt and brown sugar until soft peaks form. Don't overwhip it! Underwhipped is better than overwhipped.

To serve, either top the entire dish with the whipped cream, or place a scoop of cream into each cup.

This can also be served at room temperature, in which case, hold off on whipping the cream until ready to serve. If you should have leftover Lamb's Wool with the cream already added, do not boil it as the cream will curdle with the heat and acidity. Drink it cold or warm it slightly and gently.

Of course, when I'm really chilled, I drink spiced milk....

karma debt says re mulled cider: psst.. add some spiced rum to the mulled cider.. its teh yummy

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