- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

To mull, according to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, means “to ponder mentally; to cogitate,” as well as “to heat, sweeten and spice.”

In my other Webster’s, the New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts, the latter meaning is the only one, and they go into further delicious detail: “A beverage made of hot apple cider, brown sugar, allspice berries, cloves, cinnamon, and dried apple rings.” And “a heated mixture of red wine, sugar, lemon or orange peels and spices, such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.”

This inspired my own version of hot spiced cider that will warm you to your toes and then some as the north wind doth blow. My secret ingredient is peppercorns. When people first taste it, they tend to do a double take. The pepper’s bite sneaks up at the tail end of the sip. Everything else about the drink is homey and familiar, and then followed by a gentle but definite little zap. It’s really nice.

The amount of peppercorns (as well as the other spices) can be played with according to your preferences. Consider the proportions given here as suggestions. Everything is negotiable, so play until it is just the way you love it. Because it is so cold outside, you’ll be making multiple batches anyway.

To make this into a satisfying late-afternoon pick-me-up, serve it with a wedge of aged cheddar, a basket of crisp whole grain crackers and a bowl of whole almonds, lightly toasted.

Double-hot spiced apple berry cider

1 quart cranberry-apple juice (or any variation of cranberry-apple-berry juice)

Up to 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns

1 stick cinnamon

About 10 whole cardamom pods

Up to 1 teaspoon whole cloves or allspice berries

½ cup dried apple rings

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Orange wheels for garnish

Combine cranberry-apple juice, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves or allspice berries and dried apple rings in a heavy nonreactive saucepan. (If you prefer, the peppercorns, cardamom pods and whole cloves or allspice berries can be placed in a tea ball first. That way you won’t have to make detours around them or fish them out later.) Bring to a boil and cover. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Stir in lemon juice and serve in mugs, garnished with thick round slices of orange perched on the rim of the mug or just floating in the cider. Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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