Everyone has traditions they enjoy throughout the year whether they be large and nationally recognized ones or just little things that individual families have adopted over the years. One of our family traditions is making a pot of Mulled Cider at Thanksgiving and Christmas for everyone to fill up their mug from throughout the night. As we have been trading stories with friends over how they spend their holidays it has come to our attention that lots of people don’t make any sort of Mulled Cider and for the most part many people have never even heard of it!
We thought we would share our tradition and a little history of Mulled Cider with you since it is something we really enjoy. If you’re looking for something new to try this year then this is much easier than trying a new baking recipe, but just as delicious!
So….What is it? Mulling is the act of infusing flavor from spices into a beverage of choice which is best done in a hot medium. That’s a really complicated way of saying you’re basically making tea using spices rather than tea leaves. The spices steep in a hot liquid for an extended period of time and the beverage takes on those flavors. It really is as simple as that. What spices and what beverage can vary a lot from region to region, but the most common are Mulled Cider and Wine. We prefer cider as our hot holiday beverage, but there’s lots of room to experiment and be creative!
As a quick note it’s worth mentioning the difference between cider and juice. Fundamentally they are the same, it is the juice of apples harvested from the pulp of the fruit, but the main difference is how. Traditionally cider is considered juice that has been pressed from the apples in large vats often done at the orchard soon after picking. Juice can incorporate anything from apples run through a juicer, blended and strained or reconstituted juice from concentrate. When you are in the store next you may notice some apple juices are cloudy and a tan/beige color and some are crystal clear. True cider is usually very murky in color and unfiltered, leaving all the best flavors still intact from being pressed rather than filtered for eye appeal like commercially produced juices are. BOTH can make a great Mulled Cider, but we think you’ll find the cloudy cider version brings more flavor to the table than its cousins do.
It is also quite common to use a fermented or hard cider which is usually something made at home since pure hard cider is difficult to find outside of carbonated bottles sold like beer. Fermenting your own cider is a whole other blog post we may do down the road, but for now any juice or cider from the grocery store will do. We personally prefer TreeTop brand Honey Crisp cider which is fresh pressed and pure cider juice not from concentrate.
Where did it come from? Well, surprisingly Mulling is “steeped” in deep tradition dating back to the 2nd century when the Romans would carry spices around with them to spice and heat their wine. As they traveled through Europe the popularity of this beverage grew and the people of Germany and England were particularly fond of it. Hot beverages were a natural hit to help keep everyone warm during harsh winters and people began to use cider and ale along with wine for mulling. During these Medieval times a version of Mulled Cider came to be very notable and was called Wassail. This drink is the foundation of what we all know and love as Mulled Cider nowadays and this famous drink was shaped and revised by the orchard farming regions as a drink of choice and often used in various celebrations and rituals to bless their land for the coming harvest.
Wassail (Old Norse “ves heil”, Old English was hál,) refers both to the salute ‘Waes Hail’ which means “to be healthy” and to the drink itself. Most commonly it was made from a hard/alcoholic cider in olden times and served at homes and taverns alike. In addition to being a salute, and a beverage it was also an activity which was a ceremony and celebration adopted among all the cider producing counties in the South West of England. Each local region had their own version of festivities, but songs and dances were performed with the belief that they could awaken the apple trees and scare away any bad spirits which would help ensure a bountiful harvest for that year. To go Wassailing was to participate in such celebrations and festivities. Here are a couple lyrical tidbits from this folklore:
Wassail! wassail! all over the town, Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown; Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree; With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink unto thee.
Old Apple tree, old apple tree; We’ve come to wassail thee; To bear and to bow apples enow; Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full; Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs
Christian, Roy (1972). Old English Customs. Pub. David & Charles. ISBN0-7153-5741-7. P.113.
Another tradition of Wassailing was to travel from door to door of your neighbors’ homes with a large bowl of Wassail to share with everyone along the way and wish them good health and blessings. This tradition was often accompanied by the singing of songs and festive cheer. This is actually the birth of what we now know as Caroling, but it has evolved into more of a musical tradition than one that includes any specific food or beverage. Mulled Cider even has its own recognition as September 30th is National Mulled Cider day!
How do you make it? Traditionally, Mulled Cider is flavored with Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Allspice. There are many variations on exactly which spices and in what amounts, but largely it comes down to taste and personal preference. There is no hard set rule or right and wrong here.
At Rae&Ryan’s we source the highest grade spices available from the specific regions globally they are best cultivated from for all of our spice blends andRae&Ryan’s Mulling Spices blend is no exception. We found that a combination of Cassia Cinnamon and Star Anise from Vietnam, Ceylon Cinnamon from Sri Lanka along with Cloves(Indonesia), Allspice (Jamaica), Cardamom(Guatemala), Coriander (India), Tellicherry Pepper, Orange Zest (Florida), and Organic Ginger produces the flavor we like best.
Our Mulling Spices pouch comes with three “Tea” bags which are each best suited to infuse a half gallon of juice/cider. You can infuse a full gallon with one tea bag, but it will take about twice as much time as doing only a half-gallon. For more than one gallon you will want to use two tea bags.
The easiest way to make a batch of Mulled Cider is with your crockpot/slow cooker. Simply add the juice or cider to the pot, add your tea bag of world class spices from Rae&Ryan’s Gourmet Foods and set your device to its highest setting. We have had the best results with keeping the pot on high for the first 1.5-2 hours and then reducing it to low. You want it to come up to temp quickly to start the infusing process but you never want it to boil. Depending on the power of your particular crockpot and how bold of a spice flavor you prefer it’ll take between 3-5 hours. Once the cider has been mulling for 1-2 hours after getting hot it is ready to start sampling for strength. We recommend adding a ¼ – ½ C brown sugar per half gallon to balance out the flavor. Gently stir the sugar in to dissolve so as not to rupture the tea bag.
The strength of the spice flavor will continue to grow the longer it steeps for and we usually just leave the tea bag in all night until its almost too overwhelming in potency, but you can pull it out when it is just right. How bold you like it and how long you steep it for will be more personal preference, but this should be a good starting point to help you find what you like best. We hope you give this recipe a try and enjoy it as much as we do!
If you go Wassailing, er Caroling, this year don’t forget to make up a nice warm batch of Mulled Cider to keep your friends and family warm!
Happy Holidays from all of us at Rae&Ryan’s Gourmet Foods!!!