Each year, Christmas over and done with, I find myself sincerely regretting the way that we insist upon conflating ‘Christmas’ with ‘winter’ here in the UK. In preparation for mid-December – really rather early in the winter – we deck the halls with winter foliage, and hope for snow, and serve all kinds of seasonal food and drink – but come January 1st, at the latest, we pack away the Christmas trappings and sparkle, and start wishing for a spring that is still two months away.
With so many more dark, cold days to get through, we need those seasonal treats more than ever – not less. So many of the things we think of as Christmassy are actually just wintery, and if they’re good enough to eat on one particular day of winter, why not during the rest of the season?
Examples include glorious dried fruit and nuts (and all the pies and puddings you can make using them), clementines, sprouts (no, really), goose, and mulled wine.
I have a feeling that mulled wine might be an even more of a controversial addition to that list than sprouts. We tend to get very excited about it at the first Christmas party, but after a few weeks of overly-sweetened plonk spiked with sub-par spices and a bit of orange juice most people can’t face another cup. And yet we’re right to be excited by the prospect of a good hot punch, for a good hot punch truly is truly a glorious thing – and remains so all the way through January and February. And I don’t just mean mulled wine, or even the mulled cider that’s increasingly common. While I can drink a lot of hot toddies, alternatives would be very welcome.
So it was with interest that I picked up a few old cookery pamphlets and cookbooks today in a second-hand shop, particularly the one entitled Home-Made Wines, Cordials, Beers, Liqueurs Cups and Cocktails (published by Ward, Lock and Co). It’s hard to date, but I suspect it’s a late 1960s edition of rather older book, probably first published in the 1920s or 30s.
There’s a small chapter dedicated to ‘Winter Drinks’. All sound intriguing.
Here are two recipes that particularly tempt me, transcribed precisely. The first isn’t a million miles from the mulled drinks we’re used to. The second is a little more unusual…
Ingredients – 1 bottle of port or sherry, 2 lemons, 2 oz. of loaf sugar, 1 tumbler of water, and spice to taste
Method – Stick 1 lemon with cloves and roast or bake it, boil the spice in the water, boil up the wine, take off some of the spirit with a lighted paper, add the water and the roasted lemon, and let the preparation stand near the fire for a few minutes. Rub the sugar on the rind of the other lemon, put it in a bowl, strain, and add 1/2 the juice of the lemon, pour in the wine, and serve as hot as possible.
(The method is somewhat confusing: ‘rub the sugar on the rind’ and then ‘strain’? Taking off volatile alcohol with a lighted piece of paper is also something we don’t tend to do these days.)
Ingredients – 1 quart of milk, 2 oz of loaf sugar, 1 lemon, 1 egg, 4 sweet and 2 bitter almonds, and 1/4 pint each of cream, brandy and rum.
Method – Remove the lemon-rind in thin strips and simmer it with the almonds in the milk. Stir in the sugar and when it has melted and the milk is smoking hot, strain the liquid off into a clean hot jug or jar and stir in the cream, the stiffly whisked white of egg, and lastly the brandy and the rum, keeping the mixture nice and hot all the while.
(It’s difficult, these days, to find bitter almonds, though when mixed in small proportion with the more common sweet almonds, they add a valuable depth of flavour. All in all, this sounds like a fantastically rich, subtly-flavoured drink, with the lemon and almonds, and the minimal quantities of sugar.)
If I ever try either of them, I’ll report back.