Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mulled wine and cookbooks

The first books and booze post I did was for mulled wine and cookbooks (Here) a couple of years ago, but I feel strongly enough about it to revisit the whole sorry topic.

This is my last weekend off before Christmas, and I'm enjoying it, I've made mince pies, we've put up the tree (early I know, but I see it as an advent thing), and mulled some wine (with the result that it's half past five in the very early evening and we both feel really sleepy). There are things to do with the Christmas cakes and puddings, and decisions to be made about biscuits (gingerbread, lebkuchen, or both?) and lists to be written concerning presents, cards, and shopping for other edible treats. Will I make St. Lucia buns for my birthday (the only good thing about having a December birthday is that it falls on a day that has its own buns).

It's busy without being hectic and all very satisfying- unlike work which is hectic, chaotic, and immensely stressful, not least because we see such a lot of the worst of human behaviour as people struggle to make the best possible Christmas and everything we're told that involves.

To me, contentedly childfree - not even a niece or nephew to my name, there's no pressure to make it magical for anyone else, or buy a kings random in plastic tat that will end up broken or abandoned before you know where you are. It means that the rituals and traditions I observe are more adult ones, and that there is a bit more time to make the cakes, the puddings, the mincemeat - all and any of it, than for someone juggling a job and a young family.

Nevertheless if there's one thing that drives me crazy at this time of year (there isn't one thing, there's dozens of things, but this one is high on the list) it's the weird belief that making mulled wine from scratch is 'to much trouble'. It really isn't. It certainly isn't less trouble to go to another retailer in search of a bottle of readymade low quality aromatic wine based beverages, than it is to buy a bottle of wine, dome orange juice, a packet of spice sachets, and heat them up. It's not even much trouble to lob a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves, and a bit of star anise in a pan if you happen to have those around.

To test that theory I made today's mulled wine from scratch - which means I juiced some oranges, and found an inexpensive bottle of wine on the rack. (You want a drinkable wine, something like a good ordinary claret, or a supermarket own label that's got decent reviews. The rule should be if you wouldn't drink it happily enough on its own, don't buy it for any reason at whatsoever, not even cooking. Especially not cooking in fact, it won't do your food any favours.) Then I dug out some soft brown sugar, star anise, cloves, a cinnamon stick, and some grains of paradise - because I have them, and need to use them for something, heated the whole lot up till just about boiling point, added a little more sugar because it wasn't quite sweet enough, and a good slosh of brandy along with some orange slices, and then we drank it. I did use a tea strainer to avoid bits of cinnamon stick and grains of paradise floating around, that's about as troublesome as it got.

The nice thing about doing it this way is that it's infinitely variable according to taste. I could have added a slice of fresh ginger, or some sultanas, I could have used cardamom pods, and if I'd made any this year I might have used a syrup base (Ribena do a spiced version in winter which works well for this too). I have mulberry gin, Drambuie, Cointreau, or cherry brandy - all of which could have gone in instead of the brandy, as might port if I had the end of a bottle that wanted finishing.

It certainly felt more creative than just emptying a bottle into a pan - though if that's what you prefer there's nothing wrong with doing that, but it's worth remembering that it's really easy to make yourself. Post tree decorating, and the rest of the mulled wine has indeed been imbibed whilst consulting cookbooks.


  1. Even in hot Australia making mulled wine is a great joy - the smell on entering the house, the warm comfort of the spices, the uncanonical cooling and throwing in some ice... (PS I am now wild with envy that I do not have a bun dedicated to my birthday.)

    1. It's a good bun too! Iced mulled wine sounds pretty good - it's sweet enough for it. One day I need to experience a summertime Christmas, I find it really hard to imagine.

  2. You must have the same birthday as me! Agree December birthdays are not great, but the buns are, and I like the idea that it used to be the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.

    1. My mother always says beware the ides of March- there are a lot of birthdays around right now, and the number I know with the same day as us is well into double figures. 3 of us at work for a start. I like the idea of it being old midwinter too, happy birthday for when the day comes :)