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Hot mulled cider has been a fall/winter staple for Chelsea and me since our first year at McGill.  While we were living in university residence, Chelsea’s mom used to send her care packs nearly twice a month. One of the care packs in November had a box of RW Knudsen “mulling spices” in little single serving tea bags. So simple. So yummy and homey. All we had to do was heat up some apple juice and steep the tea bag for bit and we had hot mulled cider to go with our homework.

In second year, the cold weather started and we started making cider again and it didn’t take long for us to use up all of our mulling spice tea bags! Chels said her mum could send us some more, but I wasn’t willing to wait for that. I looked at the ingredients of the Knudsen spice bags, and then began looking into recipes for mulled cider. The result: A very rough, thrown-together recipe for hot mulled cider. It never comes out exactly the same. It is always delicious and delivers the same warm, happy holiday feelings that I want from my cider.

Hot Mulled Cider, roughly, thrown-together, always good:

2 litres of apple juice (eye ball half of the 4 litre jug if you go through as much cider as we do)
Not the super sweet sunripe kind, but the kind that has some sediment, is probably organic, and maybe not pasteurized. It has a more rich apply flavour. It’s less like candy, and more like juice.

A 1 inch hunk of fresh ginger
Sliced very thin, or grated even. The idea to maximize the surface area and get that ginger juice in there.

A navel orange
Again, sliced thin, and put in the pot with the juice and ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

Some cloves
To taste! I like my cider really clovey and put at least 10 whole cloves. Some people don’t really like cloves. It’s a personal preference thing.

A few dried bay leaves
Broken up and put in the pot.

And brandy!
I put a shot of brandy in my mug before filling it up with cider. I got mixed reviews on how strong the cider was at last year’s Christmas party, so of course this is another “to taste” item.

I think that’s it. Put everything, minus the brandy, in a big pot and heat it up just to a simmer, but don’t boil it. Take it off heat and serve with some brandy. You can garnish the glass with a cinnamon stick and an orange. In my experience, it just gets taken out, but it does look nice!

Tah-dah!

If you like mulled cider and you like red wine, I strongly suggest you make mulled wine. It’s basically the same stuff, but with some cranberry juice and maybe a little sugar.

What I have learned about these hot holiday drinks is that they are always tasty, but rarely a precise recipe. Experiment and find your personal favourite way of doing things!

Happy Cider Season!

Monique

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[Ed.: In case you thought of Saskatchewan in December as nothing but snowy whiteness, J is back with a guest blog to disabuse you of that notion! ]

Today was not the best day for me to compose a witty, memorable essay on National Cocoa Day. Instead of whipping up something chocolate-y and delicious with cute photos as evidence, I was listening to a plumber swear in my basement as I phoned excavating companies to find out how much it would cost to dig up my back yard with a backhoe loader. Maybe I should have titled today’s blog “I Was Cleaning Something in my Basement that Looked Like Chocolate But It Was Definitely Not Chocolate Day”. Seriously people, nothing makes you want to cook less than playing with your acreage’s septic system, but I felt I had to replace the “odor du jour” with something more aromatic so after washing my hands (that were double gloved) 5 times, I baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. They made me feel better. And when your septic system goes down the shitter, so to speak, you have something to bribe the trades people with as well. I guess I did use something from the cocoa plant after all!

Christmas at Soestdijk Palace. The Dutch queen Juliana and princess Beatrix are serving cocoa and buns to the staff. The Netherlands, Baarn, December 22, 1960.

Okay, on with my very short blog about National Cocoa Day. Cocoa is a very large topic. I have a feeling that “National Cocoa Day” is more about the drink (I wanted to try this recipe) than the commodity. You probably don’t want to hear about the drink, but there are somethings you might find interesting about cocoa powder. For example, cocoa is one by product of harvesting the cocoa bean. Here is a little diagram to illustrate how it is produced:

Cocoa powder as we know it, comes in two varieties: natural and Dutch-processed. Knowing Martha Stewart  and her penchant for all things domestic, her website describes very well that:

Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that were pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter. Surprisingly, the lighter-colored natural variety is more chocolaty than the darker Dutch-process, which is milder in flavor. Each type reacts to leaveners differently, so the two are not interchangeable; Everyday Food recipes use Dutch-process cocoa.

“Dutched” cocoa differs from natural in that an alkaline solution is added to the beans during roasting, mellowing their acidity. Reddish brown and milder tasting than natural cocoa powder, Dutch process cocoa powder is ideal in baked goods where its subtle flavor complements the other ingredients. It should be combined with an acid such as baking powder.

Natural cocoa powder is acidic, so must be combined with an alkaline ingredient such as baking soda to create bubbles of carbon dioxide, which cause leavening. With an intense, bitter, deep chocolate flavor, it tastes great in brownies and cookies.

Chocolate snobs consider the Criollo variety of cocoa plant to be of the best quality, but is it not very disease resistant and is mostly grown in South America. Over 70% of the world’s production of the cocoa bean comes from Africa, but Africa only consumes maybe 3%! The Swiss eat the rest.

Now onto the serious part of the blog: Has anyone ever seen fair trade cocoa powder? Out here on the prairies, it might not be as readily available as in Victoria, but I should be able to find it somewhere. This is a gentle reminder to all people smitten by chocolate – so many countries in Africa that produce cocoa use child labour and slavery to harvest these crops. Buy fair trade! It will do your heart good – from the flavenoids and the treatment of your fellow human beings.

All this reading of unfair labour practices and child slavery has made my acreage “inconvenience” seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I have heard that ingesting chocolate has a calming effect. I guess I will make that cup of cocoa and enjoy it while my back yard gets ripped up on Monday.

via Saskatchewan,
J