Monday, November 26, 2012

Apple Cider -- Holiday Food No. 1

The holidays are upon us! After spending last Christmas alone in my flat in England, except for when my roommate sneak attacked me and brought her parents (visiting from Germany for the holiday) over, I'm really excited to be home this winter. We decorated the tree at my parents' house, and my housemates are beautifying our house and planning holiday fun times. I bought a Christmas-y shirt. This got me thinking about holiday foods, especially ones that I tried to collect last Christmas when I was trying to recreate home in a little way.
Apple cider is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about holiday foods.

I feel like I've always been fond of spiced apple cider (cider in the american "cloudy apple juice" sense, not the british "fermented apple juice" sense). My grandma has made mulled cider in a big electric percolator (like you get coffee from at church, with the little spigot, not the big pump ones at coffee shops, and yes, that is an important detail) for long enough that I associate the smell with the words holiday, family, and warm, in that order. It's a great all-purpose holiday drink, and it's possible that she's served it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, possibly in the same season. Then, I discovered that drinking Alpine spiced cider (and not that sugar free crap, no sir, it tastes like Theraflu, which tastes nasty), an apple-cider flavored drink that I'd enjoyed since childhood, actually helps me focus and perform well under stress.
Naturally, I tried to replicate my grandmother's cider for our flat Christmas party in England, since everyone was pining a little and bringing/making things that reminded them of Christmas at home. But mulling spices are expensive, and most of them smell like potpourri instead of holidays, family, and warmth, so I googled "mulled cider" and pieced everything together. The end result was a hot cider that smelled and tasted exactly how I'd hoped.

I'll attempt to replicate the recipe, although there was a lot of "dump half the bottle of cinnamon in by accident and scoop a bunch out" and "discover that you need to strain your cider; have tipsy flatmates help you slowly pour cider through a cotton tea bag" going on, and it was about a year ago. Actually, I think I'll ask my grandma what spices she uses and report that here later, and possibly add in an update if I attempt to repeat my England experience with less random dumping of spices (and fewer tipsy flatmates). This can be done with either cloudy apple juice type cider or probably non-carbonated hard cider, if that's a thing that exists. A significant amount of water (or, presumably, alcohol if you go the fermented route) will cook out, so be prepared to start with a lot of cider. A lot of this is based on personal preference. For instance, you could probably add ginger if you're a ginger fan. I don't really like ginger in my cider, so I don't use it. Besides, I don't think Grandma used ginger.

Starting with 1 gallon of cider makes about enough for 4 people to have two scant 8 oz mugs apiece. If you want to have a very specific number, it's 12 fl oz per generous serving, but just go with a quart per person if you're having a party. Nothing wrong with leftovers.
For a one-gallon batch:
1 gal cider
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 orange, sliced into rings
Generous splash orange juice, about 2 tbsp
Honey or sugar to taste, but honey is better

Pour the cider into an appropriately-sized saucepan and turn on the burner to medium heat.
Put spices into a fabric tea bag. If you have a favorite spice, add another 1/2 tsp of that spice. VERY IMPORTANT: The bag should be fabric, and not a tea ball or something metal because you will have to strain the hot cider if you don't start out with the spices in a fabric bag. Don't use a super fancy expensive bag, though, since it'll probably be unusable after this.
Splash in the orange juice -- the cider should be a little cloudy but mostly still apple cider-colored.
Toss the orange rings into the pot, rind and all. Just use as many orange rings as will fit comfortably on the surface of the liquid. You could probably use lemon or grapefruit if you want.
Drop in the bag of spices and make sure it gets all soaked through; pour some cider through it and close it back up if it's really stubborn. If you have cinnamon sticks or whole spices (whole cloves and presumably nutmeg and allspice can be purchased at your average supermarket in the baking aisle, check the bulk section if they have one), toss in a few now. They'll add some authenticity to your operation.
Heat on medium until it starts steaming and smelling apple-y and spicy (time will vary). Taste and add a few spoonfuls of honey (preferably) or sugar as needed. Add a few spices to the bag if needed, either to strengthen the general flavor or to balance the spices. It may also be a good idea to sprinkle a few pinches of your favorite spices straight into the cider if the flavor is really lacking.
Don't bring to a boil, but do get it good and hot and hold it there.

To break it down for just 1 serving, since that's a nice way to deal with a rainy day:
12 fl oz cider
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp each cloves, nutmeg, allspice
2 orange rings (eat the rest, they're good for you, or just chuck them in as well)
Small splash orange juice
Honey to taste

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