Tue 5 Jan 2010
It took me weeks to figure out why I am almost always somewhat disappointed by fresh, hot apple cider. Months, even. I greedily snap up jugs of the stuff as soon as it shows up in our grocery store. One jug lives in the fridge (sometimes a depressingly short life, truth be told) while its backup dancers keep a juicy vigil over the rest of the dry storage in the laundry room. It’s not that I don’t end up drinking it; I can polish off a half gallon during an episode of House if I put my mind to it. I just prefer it cold.
And yet I want to love it as a hot beverage. Is there anything more intrinsically blessed with your mind’s perfect image of fall? Hot apple cider screams fall and winter, the very words on a page conjure images of orchard donuts and bales of hay, or Dickensian Christmas scenes with cherry-cheeked children scampering around a cozy living room in their socks while the dog barks with joy. Right?
So every year, I approach my first mug of hot cider with unforgivably poetic expectations. Like, over the top. The kind that would make Norman Rockwell roll his eyes and say “girl, pull yourself together and drink the damned apple juice.” And every year I am slightly disappointed. Every year, that is, until this one.
My friend Josh was kind enough to share his favorite wassail recipe on his blog, and at the very mention I knew what was missing from my cider. I didn’t want hot cider at all. When fall clicks its heels on my doorstep and ushers a biting crispness into the air, I want wassail. The sweet acidity of the orange juice and lemon juice bring something lively to the cup. And oh, the spices. As they mull together with each other, the juices, the maple syrup, they reach the perfect storm of spicy complexity that I’ve been missing in all those mugs of plain hot cider. Beautiful.
It’s a rather Christmassy drink, I’ll give you that. But I maintain that it’s never too late to indulge yourself in something so wonderful. Enjoy yourself; it’s a brand new year.
Adapted from The Expatriate Minister
If you’re concerned about the spice dregs, put the cloves in a tea strainer or tie them in a bit of cheesecloth. For the nutmeg, freshly grated is best, but ground will also work. If you choose ground, use slightly less.
4 cups orange juice
4 2” sticks of cinnamon
2 T whole cloves
2 T ground allspice
¼ t grated nutmeg
¾ cup maple syrup
2 quarts apple cider
- Juice the lemons
- Simmer the lemon juice, orange juice, spices, and maple syrup
- Boil the cider
- Combine the juices and bring back to a boil
Juice the lemons and skim for seeds. Combine the juice with the orange juice, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and maple syrup in a large pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, reduce to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
15 minutes into the simmer, bring the cider to a boil in another pot. Pour into the spiced orange juice and bring the entire mixture back to a gentle boil. Stir well before removing the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Ladle into mugs and serve with a shake of ground cinnamon.
Serving a crowd? The wassail will stay lovely for several hours on the stove over very low heat. It will keep for an additional week in the refrigerator; reheat in the microwave or in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stove.