Mulled wine – not just for Christmas

Plus a variation for those of you who want something lighter and more refreshing.

I love mulled wine. I drink it a lot during the autumn. It’s great if you have company because you can leave it on the stove and let guests help themselves. Halloween and Bonfire night are great times to kick off mulling season.

People think it has to take ages to cook. It doesn’t – and you don’t need to fiddle around with home sewn muslin bags or fuss with a search for the perfect ready assembled mix of spices. The chances are that you’ll already have some of the key ingredients if you bake or cook from scratch in the autumn and winter.

Today I made a pan for 12 guests. I did enough for everyone to have 2 wine glasses worth – although I serve it in modest sized mugs because of the temperature.

The ingredients are a 3l box of red wine – I chose one described as ‘fruity’. It seemed an appropriately cheery description and box wine isn’t complex. Then a large orange into quarters (remove any seeds) and put them aside.

You will need a reasonably substantial pan for the endeavour. It should have a lid. Plus a ladle if you’re trying to look like an expert – or just a wooden spoon and measuring jug if you aren’t a pretentious arse like me.

Put all the wine in the pan. There’s no point messing about and, besides, mulled wine can survive a little bit longer than you think.

Then add the orange quarters; 4 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar; 2 sticks of cinnamon; 2 whole nutmegs (I think that’s the correct use of the plural); 2 or 3 cloves (depending on your taste – I find they make it rather zingy); 3 dried bay leaves – or 1 or 2 fresh – and, last but not least, 3 or 4 cardamom seeds. You can add a couple of cubes of fresh ginger but not if you’re going to make the cold fruit cup version.

Put the pan on a large hob at a high heat and bring just to the start of a boil. You want a few bubbles around the edge – keep the top on at this point but check regularly. You don’t want it to boil over. You may need to keep popping back to the point where it becomes irritating but it’s worth it in the end.

As soon as you get those bubbles take off the lid and turn it down to a medium heat. The perfume will flood the house and welcome your guests happily. You need to start the cooking half an hour before the estimated arrival of guests – although you can begin before then and leave it on the hob on the lowest heat with the lid on and heat it up if necessary if you are going to be busy.

Taste it as you go along to check if you require more sugar. It should be sweet – like expensive cough mixture. Imagine what bronchitis medicine tastes like if you’re a Russian oil tzar. That’s what you’re aiming for – good for you but tastes delicious enough to make you a glamorous patient, rather than a snot nosed, plague carrying, painting clothes wearing, unwashed Netflix addict.

Then go and put on your glad rags. We can go into what I would choose another time – now it’s time for a cocktail recipe. Or two.

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