Fall is the best time of year for a lot of reasons. Of course we know that everything in the food world is focused on pumpkin spice everything right now, and likely will be until after our friends in the USA celebrate Thanksgiving in November. However, the bumper crop that comes in for us at this time of year is apples. So while the big chains are losing their minds over pumpkin spice, we’re more than happy to start sprinkling around some good old apple spice to balance it off.
Pumpkin and apple spice blends aren’t really all that different when you come right down to it. The core is still around cinnamon, and while pumpkin tends to enjoy nutmeg a little more than apple does, the two actually make a really nice compliment on a menu. It’s a great idea to serve a pureed pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato seasoned with pumpkin spices next to a pork roast topped with roasted apples, cinnamon, and allspice.
While most people think of apple cider as a great holiday drink for December, there’s nothing quite like the scent of apples, cinnamon, and cloves filling the house all day long. It’s not difficult to do either, and you can make it happen in as little or as much time as you’d like.
First Version: Stovetop Cheater
OK, let’s say you don’t have a slow cooker, and you want a mug of cider. You also don’t want to make a special trip to the store to get cider, AND you don’t want to make a gallon of it. We get it. Here’s a quick version you can do on the stove:
- 1 l. (about a quart) of apple juice
- 1/2 tsp whole allspice
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp orange juice concentrate
Place whole allspice and cloves in a tea strainer, or use a coffee filter held closed with a rubber band to create a spice bag. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring the pot to a boil and let boil for about two minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add brown sugar or other sweetener to taste (if needed — apple juice is a bit sweeter than cider). Remove spice bag and cinnamon stick. Serve and enjoy!
Not too bad, right? It’s not ideal, but it will give you the mulled effect in a relatively short amount of time.
Apple juice and apple cider are very close to the same thing. The juice just goes through more stages of filtration, to make it clearer. Removing the pulp reduces oxidation, which is what gives cider that warm brown colour and flavour.
Second Version: Hot Mulled Cider
Here’s the real deal. This one needs a crock pot or slow cooker. Because it cooks so slowly, we like to put it on when we go to bed. When we get up in the morning, the entire house is permeated with the smell of hot cider. What a fantastic way to wake up!
- 3 l. (about three quarts) unsweetened apple cider
- 1 1/2 tsp. whole allspice
- 1 TBSP whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 strips of orange zest or peel (or toss a whole mandarin orange or clementine in the pot)
Place allspice and cloves into a tea strainer, or make a spice bag with a coffee filter and a rubber band (or cooking twine). Place all ingredients into the slow cooker, and cover. Set heat to low, and let it cook 4-8 hours.
There is a danger of overcooking, when the sugar and the fruit sugars can burn and caramelize, so you don’t want to leave this on indefinitely. Turn it off when you feel it’s spiced through, and let it cool. You can heat a cup at a time on the stove or in the microwave. When it cools, you can also return it to its original bottle and store it in the fridge. It also freezes really well!