By The Pricking Of My Wine Bottle...
CONFESSION TIME— I’ve never had mulled wine. Naturally, now is your chance to run. Because who better to make mulled wine than someone who’s absolutely never had it in her life? Good question. Still here? Cool. Next comes the obvious follow up; why even make a seemingly quintessential winter drink in the autumn at all? Easy. Because a witch is a woman who knows her own mind and mine is telling me what better drink than that which quite literally looks like the blood of our enemies. It is the #extraequinox after all, and I’m a real sucker for that Scottish play.
Making mulled wine is an interesting adventure if you’ve never done it, more so if you’ve not eaten all day and have a penchant for tasting things as you go along. Luckily as I am a grown up with a work week, I decided against making a full party-sized batch otherwise I’d be like our dear old Dorothy Parker and well under the table by now. I’ll leave you to your own proportional choices. Although most recipes call for a large batch, the one I’ve referenced for ingredients is by that other cultural doyenne of ours, Martha Stewart. She’s calculated ingredients for a single bottle. Feel free to multiply by the size of your party. (As per my Sangria post last summer, common courtesy stands at half a bottle per person.)
This is where things get interesting. As someone who’s never had this mythical, celebrated beverage, I suppose I’ve always held it up to be a bit more magical, complicated, mysterious, than I probably should have, so lo and behold my disappointment upon my research to find it’s just. wine. warmed up. with spices. Do not get me wrong. I love wine. I love a good spice mix. But this is me, so there just had to be more. I appreciate Martha’s use of fresh, whole spices, as it gives it all that lovely, homemade touch, and I get to use a mortar and pestle. #extra
Still, I ran myself to the grocery store because fresh spices will only get you so far on the creepy scale. I’ve got Shakespearean witches to live up to, after all. Common scholarship rules mulled wine, like Sangria, a good excuse to use up any cheap wine you’ve got lying around, but like with cooking I personally believe you shouldn't use anything you wouldn't drink on its own. Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite red, never letting me down with its mix of mellow tannins, bright berries and sweet vanilla. If I’m not halfway through my second whiskey between September and January, you can bet I'm drinking Cabernet. Bonus points for the seasonal image of what looked like a headless horseman but upon closer inspection seems to be a knight mid battle. I tried.
Following my wine’s profile I headed to the produce section for some final bloody inspiration in the way of pomegranate, cranberries, and thanks to my genius brother, some frightful grapes. Moon Drops, as they’re called, appear for two weeks once a year and as per their packaging, contain a flavor that is “out of this world.” I’m going to take artistic license and pretend we’re talking Underworld here. They taste like cherries and I’m sure Hades and Persephone would approve.
Instructions generally call for throwing everything in a pot and letting it simmer until well blended, however with changes I’ve taken I’ve decided to try the slow approach listed in an ancient found copy of The Joy of Cooking, and so my recipe comes out something like this:
Halloween Mulled Wine
1 Medium Lemon (better than orange to balance out the sweetness I’ve added everywhere else)
2 Cardamom Pods
6 Whole Cloves
6 Allspice Berries
6* Whole Peppercorns (I like pink but use whatever you’ve got)
1 Cinnamon stick (more if you’re going to garnish)
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Pomegranate, Cranberry, or Sour Cherry Juice (I used a blend of all three)
1 Bottle Red Wine
Seasonal Fruits of your choice: cranberries, grapes (optional but encouraged)
Per The Joy of Cooking, we’re going to mix the spices with the water and simmer until the sugar’s dissolved, adding everything else after.
In your mortar, combine the cardamom, cloves, allspice, peppercorns and crush until your anger at the patriarchy’s at least a little bit out. If you don't have a mortar and pestle do like Martha and use the flat side of a knife to crush everything on a wooden cutting board. Set aside.
In a pot that’s not steel (according to The JOC), combine water and sugar, over medium heat. Add your spices, cinnamon stick, and as it begins to warm add the zest and juice of your entire lemon. Stir and watch your magical potion come to life. (Not literally, at least not yet.)
As the sugar dissolves and begins to simmer, take a drink of your wine and slowly pour the rest into your cauldron. Cast your spell, toss in your juice of choice and give it one last stir. Let it hang out over medium-low heat while you get to chopping.
Using your preferred method, crush your cranberries just enough to break them open. Otherwise you’ll end up like me, tossing cold, whole berries into a boiling liquid and they will literally come alive, bursting popping sounds and flying back out of the pot. Or maybe you want that. Eye of newt and all. Slice your grapes lengthwise and toss ‘em in too. Toe of frog.**
Let simmer over your medium-low heat for about 30-40 minutes, just enough for the flavors to meld but before your cinnamon takes too much control.
Remove from heat. Take a minute to realize you’ve never had this properly before and thus have no idea how to serve it. In the movies it’s all clear plastic mugs so you decide in favor of your mother’s crystal; your goblet’s stuck in traffic and a regular mug won’t do.
Strain as you pour each glass if like me you can’t lift an entire cast iron pot full of liquid, and enjoy with friends over a rich stew or other warming dish; personally I went for the last minute grilled cheese, an unspecific choice, but drunk me is a lazy cook and to quote Olivia, “grilled cheese is better because melted plus bread.” A High Priestess knows her logic.
To keep any leftovers, strain the entire amount and store in your refrigerator, warming up over medium heat to serve again. Store your mulled fruit separately and snack away as you wish.
*Enjoy counting to six repeatedly. It’ll set the mood.
**Come Christmas I’ll probably eliminate this step; if you’re well into your cups like me at this point you’ll know this mix is good enough without the lively additions.