Here in the Appalachians, autumn is beginning to steal into the coves and hollows. I wake up each morning to cooler temperatures and find the evening hours of darkness growing longer. The dogwood trees are beginning to turn a burnt maroon and I can catch glimpses of orange bittersweet blooming along the fence rows.
This morning I had my first steaming mug of mulled cider. For me, it's a sure sign that the season has changed.
In my family, autumn was all about the apple harvest. After days of picking, my Grampy usually took some his apples to the local cider mill to be pressed (that's him in the picture). Mostly, his bushel upon bushel of Yellow Delicious apples were sold or stored for eating through the winter, but he also always made a bit of cider. Once when I was young, I accompanied him to the mill.
It was one of those magical autumn mornings when the air was brisk but the sun was warm. I recall the camaraderie of the farmers as they greeted each other and cued up to have their apples pressed. As usual, Grampy was joking with the neighbors and teasing me. I remember bees buzzing about, drawn in by the rich fermenting apple smell from the piles of pulp. Mostly I remember the golden amber juice spilling from the press into gallon jugs. Oh and that taste! Nothing in the world tastes quite as lovely as freshly pressed cider.
Grampy’s cider went straight into the refrigerator in his garage, which is where the bushels of apples were stored. The whole place smelled like an orchard – even in the depths of winter. And as the winter months marched on, that cider was changing. It fermented and bubbled and turned into hard cider. By spring, some of the cider had turned from hard cider into cider vinegar. We used that tangy vinegar for salad dressings and for making pickles during the summer months.
As summer began fading into early fall, the cycle was complete and it was time to begin picking apples once again...
1 gallon fresh, local cider
1 orange, sliced into rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg, broken into large pieces
2 teaspoons whole all-spice
2 teaspoons star anise
1 teaspoon whole clove
1. Place all ingredients in a large stockpot and cover.
2. Warm slowly over medium heat until steaming and hot.
3. Keeping covered, reduce heat to low and serve hot.
If you want to make just one mug at a time, look for pre-packaged mulling spices at your local health food store bulk herb department or gourmet food shop.