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.