I suppose I can’t escape it. I was do determined to ignore it altogether, maybe to be original and unpredictable, but it’s Christmas. Rather unexpectedly, the festive spirit has grabbed me by the throat. With the sweet, sweet promise of alcohol, in fact!
I’m actually one of those silly people that don’t mind Christmas at all. Of course, I have a possibly Freudian, but probably very healthy distrust of those Christmas trees that ejaculate snow out of the top (even more so if they’re unsavoury colours like blue or red). But apart from that I don’t mind the festive season at all, possibly because it has never caused me any traumas. I’ve never been forced by my parents to deck the halls with boughs of holly, don my gay apparel and visit relatives I don’t like, for which I owe them my eternal gratitude.
In fact, Christmas never was a big thing in my family. We’ve always celebrated Sinterklaas, a much more exciting and, I dare say, modest holiday that is only celebrated in The Netherlands, the former Dutch colonies, Belgium, and, I discovered recently, Hungary. Sinterklaas is the nickname, as it were, of Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of children. He is actually the model for Santa Clause. The Dutch imported him to the States when they were settling their colonial arses there. Others then took the image of red-clad friendly man who hands out freebies and linked it to Christmas, because the sixth of December, the saint’s original name day, was a bit too far-fetched for those who weren’t used to it. Coca Cola then claimed his ass and we all know the story from there: they turned him into an obese, jolly, less intelligent Yankee version of what used to be a somewhat stern, but friendly bishop. A holy man, turned into a fairytale-style fat-ass by so-called bible-loving, God-fearing Christians.
The point about the bishop brings me to my recipe. Mulled wine.
These days most Dutch people call it by its German name, Glühwein, but in the old days it was referred to as bishop’s wine, since it was traditionally sold in the festive Sinterklaas season, around the beginning of December. The recipe for bishop’s wine is slightly different from that of mulled wine, in that it has one ‘correct’ recipe, whereas mulled wine can be subjected to the whims of whoever makes it. So we’ll make mulled wine then, that way no-one can accuse me of being unauthentic!
Making mulled wine yourself is a dead easy and pleasant wee chore that will fill your house with the odour of festiveness. It also enables you to avoid making it too sweet, so that it will still taste of wine when you drink it, and not like diluting juice with cinnamon in it, which is what happens to mulled wine you might find in Christmas markets.
You can add or leave out anything you want at all, but this is my favourite way of preparing mulled wine. Not too many spices, little sugar and no chopped up fruit in it. For a litre, you will need:
- a 75cl bottle of wine, not necessarily of high quality, but preferably not too dodgy either
- 250ml of water
- an orange
- 10 – 15 cloves
- two cinnamon sticks
- a chunk of fresh ginger
- two tbsp (or as much as you want) sugar
- a shot of rum or triple sec (optional)
Dewax the orange: stick it under the hot tap for a while, then rub it clean with a tea towel. Use a sponge on it if you feel you must.
Stick the cloves in the orange. It will look like a tiny little mine. Like so:
Cut and peel the ginger, as much as you want (I use a couple of centimetres, chopped into 4 bits). Stick all of the ingredients in a pan together and stick them on the heat. Two cinnamon sticks might be too much for some people; use your own judgement. As for the sugar, I think two tablespoons is enough, because I don’t like it too sweet, but you can put in more if you prefer.
The best thing to do if you have an electric cooker is to stick it on one of the smaller hobs and to keep the heat at its lowest all the time, or to heat it up at half heat first, then turn it down. If you have a proper gas cooker, stick the pan on the lowest fire possible and leave it to simmer forever. Whatever you do, don’t let the wine boil. Ideally you should keep it at about 70 degrees Celsius: the boiling point for ethanol is somewhere around 78 degrees. By keeping the wine below that temperature, you preserve the alcohol.
As finishing touch, add a small amount of rum if you like it deep and spicy, or triple sec if you like it fresh and citrusy.
You can keep leftovers and reheat them later. Pour only the wine (and none of the spices) back into the wine bottle and reheat in a small pan, or in the microwave.