A flask of coffee is all well and good, but what we really crave is a mulled drink…
As the weather starts to turn chilly down on the allotment, we like to keep our spirits up with a nice warming beverage. In its simplest form, a mulled drink is a beverage (usually alcohol, with red wine or cider being the foremost kinds) warmed in a pan and flavoured with the addition of spices, which are wrapped in a muslin bag and dunked into the drink like a teabag.
Ready-made mulling kits are widely available, but by far the most enjoyable mulling method is to experiment with your own ingredients and to mix and match to find your own perfect blend. We’ve been mulling things over and have come up with these five fab spices to get you started...
Arguably the king of Christmas spices, cinnamon will add warming, sweet and savoury flavours to your mulled drinks. The spice comes from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees, which is peeled and laid out to dry, causing it to curl up and form the familiar cinnamon stick we all know and love.
Use cinnamon as a start point for your mulled creations or, for a simple warming winter tea, crumble a cinnamon stick along with small chunks of dried apple into a mug full of boiling water and infuse for a good ten minutes. Add a dash of brandy if it feels extra cold outside.
Dried orange peel
Orange peel will add zesty citrus flavours to your mulled creations along with a festive splash of colour. Don't bother with the expensive stuff you can buy in health food shops—it's easy enough to prepare yourself.
Grab a bagful of oranges and peel them with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, ensuring you leave behind the white, bitter pith. Place them on a baking sheet and bake in an oven at 180F for 35 mins, or until the edges of the peel start to curl.
If you plan on using your orange peel for tea infusions as well as mulled drinks it’s worth chopping the peel into thin, matchstick-sized pieces before you lob them in the oven. Alternatively, you can break them up into smaller pieces when baked. Store your peel in an airtight container and it should keep for a good few months.
These odd-looking, microphone-shaped flower heads hail—unsurprisingly—from the Clove tree Syzygium aromaticum, native to the Maluku Islands of Indonesia. They can be a little overwhelming if used in large quantities, but there’s no denying the spicy zing they bring.
Cloves pair brilliantly with apple and are one of the core spices used for making Lambswool—a mulled, cider-based drink, often served at wassailing ceremonies.
Easily obtainable from grocery stores, a slice of fresh ginger will add aromatic spicy goodness to your mulling creations. If you’ve got the patience, you can also grow your own ginger plant for future mulling experiments. Select a piece of shop bought ginger, ideally one that already has small green buds forming, and give it a good scrub. Cut off a bit with the bud and place in a tall pot filled with gritty compost on a sunny windowsill. Green shoots should start to appear in a few weeks, and after a good six to eight months you should notice the rhizome swelling where the shoots meet the soil.
When the foliage of your ginger plant dies down you can harvest the root, although you may wish to let the plant develop larger rhizomes and nab them the following year. Dry the root somewhere dark and cool until its outer skin turns papery, remembering to save some back to continue the growing cycle.
Probably one of the most common spices in your kitchen cupboard, peppercorns are a fine addition to mulled booze. Unsurprisingly they will lend a peppery warmth to your drinks—just remember to lightly crush them first before adding to your brew to help release the flavour. Crushing will also prevent any unscheduled trips to the dentist, should an unlucky imbiber happen to chomp down on a whole, bullet-hard peppercorn that has escaped the mulling muslin.
Read more: 7 Boozy winter warmer recipes
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