MULLING IT OVER IN THE WINTER
Mulling is a very old cooking technique, heating fruit and spices with fruit juice, tea or wine and letting them steep to a rich delicious flavor. Today, coming off the ski slope or the skating rink to a warming spicy drink makes a nice treat. Imagine how much it was appreciated long ago, when indoor heat came only from the fireplace and everyone had outdoor jobs to do.
In classical and medieval times, spices played a wide range of roles in a household. While households throughout European world routinely grew herbs to season food and make medicines, the exotic flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, allspice and ginger carried with them the air of faraway places that only traders and explorers saw with their own eyes.
Fortunately, your crockpot is an ideal vessel for mulled drinks. Use it to steep flavors all night long for a weekend breakfast treat, or greet winter athletes at the end of a long brisk day. Mull a drink to sip while opening presents under the tree. Treat company to something beyond the same old wine-and-cheese routine. Perfume your whole house just by lifting your crock pot lid for a peek.
Housewives once sewed little muslin bags to hold mulling spices. Today, an old-fashioned tea ball performs the same service. Spices infuse the mulling liquid without leaving bark, berries and fruit rinds in the bottom of the pot. You can also twist spices in a small piece of cheesecloth for easy retrieval before serving. Just for fun, let children poke cloves and pieces of cinnamon stick into an apple for a quick spice holder.
Some good combinations to mull in your crockpot:
- Add apple juice or cider to your kids’ mulling apple and send them out to play in the snow.
- Put a zing into black tea with a cinnamon stick, several whole allspice and a long curl of orange zest.
- Apple cider, a can of pear nectar, allspice and ginger come close to a favorite spicy colonial drink. Early colonists made as much pear cider as apple cider and called it “peary.”
- Mull cider for adults with cinnamon stick and orange wedges. Pour a little applejack (apple brandy) into each serving.
- Red wine is mulled many ways. Nutmeg, allspice, ginger and orange or lemon all add warmth. Frequently, a little sugar and a cup of hot water are added. The goal is sweet, spicy and just a little mellowing all at once. Think sangria in a snowsuit!
- Cocoa doesn’t need to be mulled, but it can be brewed and held in a crockpot until the very last snowball has been thrown. Add cinnamon stick and a pinch of instant coffee to make a version of Mexican hot chocolate.
Crockpots make wonderful gifts, and in winter what could be better than a crockpot mulling kit to go with it? Fill the crockpot with cinnamon sticks, candied ginger, and those other exotic treasures that once traveled all the way around the world to warm and cheer families. Add a recipe or two—maybe you’ll be invited to share this easy, warming winter hospitality tradition.