Normally about this time of year I do a top ten titles from the last 12 months post, and I do it in November because December is always crazy at work and I don't have the energy (even if I have the time) to think about much but that and Christmas. This year I thought I'd try and do something different though and mix books with work.
My day job is selling wine (beers and spirits too), and despite this being my 17th Christmas in the trade I still love the stuff, love talking about it, and above all love learning about it. (I'll draw a discreet veil over the bits I don't enjoy so much but cardboard cuts are even worse than paper cuts, and we open a lot of boxes). So between now and Christmas each post should have a drink and my idea of appropriate reading material to go with it, which in my head sounds like a fun idea, we'll see. But first a disclaimer. It's not meant to be prescriptive - the choice of a book is clearly as much a matter of personal taste as the choice of drink to go with it!
That said I have some very strong feelings about mulled wine. I can confidentially expect to sell somewhere between 3 and 4 tonnes of it in the next 3 weeks. Inevitably we will totally run out by the 21st of December, and I will explain to far to many people that making your own is much nicer. They will tell me it's to much trouble (it's not) and there will be a moment of resentful silence all round. Then we'll sell out of the sachets anyway.
Mulled wine is an odd one. The premixed bottles so many people go crazy for (romantically labelled 'aromatic wine based beverage') is made of the cheapest ingredients, is everywhere before Christmas, nowhere after it when the days are just as cold and dark, and always disappoints me. The sachets (either the over priced but pretty things with the whole cinnamon stick, or the functional tea bag affairs) are okay but demand that you make quite a lot. Wine mulling syrup on the other hand is brilliant. You can buy it, but it's also really easy to make.
This recipe is from Trine Hahnemann's 'Scandinavian Christmas', an excellent winter cookbook and not just for Christmas. This will make enough to fill 2 x 250ml bottles, each bottle will do 1 quantity (basically a bottle of wine), there's no reason not to make up lots more. You need 200ml black currant juice, 75ml lemon juice, 20 cloves, 10 cardamom pods (lightly crushed) 2 small cinnamon sticks, and 200g of caster sugar. Chuck everything into a pan, cover, bring to a gentle boil, simmer for 30 mins, drain through a sieve to catch the bits, then stick into sterilised bottles. It will keep for months. When it's wanted heat it up with a bottle of cheap but drinkable red with a 150g of raisins and the same of almonds.
If you want to mull cider or white wine use apple juice instead. What I love about this is how versatile it is. It can be thrown into fruit juice (any mix of grape, pomegranate, cranberry - well, anything you like really) for a non alcoholic version. Adjusted with more or less sugar/ spices to suit personal taste, and used to rejuvenate any slightly tired, half drunk, bottle of wine that's hung around for a few days. Make plenty and it's there for you all winter too.
There are no shortage of book recommendations to accompany mulled wine, Dickens in Christmas mood probably drank buckets of something similar, Trollope when he's going on at length about hunting seems like a good bet too, and it probably wouldn't be out of keeping with Chaucer either but I'm going with cookbooks.
This - the begining of advent, is my favourite part of the festive season. It's still calm enough to enjoy making plans and I enjoy sitting with a pile of cookbooks looking for inspiration - not even with any serious intention of making half the things I bookmark. It's the time to check cupboards for ingredients, think about mince pies, candied oranges, gingerbread for the tree, to take pleasure in the prospect of cake to come. Mulled wine (technically Glogg in this case) is the perfect accompaniment; warm and fragrant it takes the sting out of cold, dark, wet, evenings just as the thought of all those other good things to share does.