Autumn is my favorite season, hands down, bar none. There is nothing about fall that doesn’t make me happy—changing trees, pumpkin, cider, all of these things are integral to my autumn experience.
Hot cider, however, is my personal favorite out of all things crisp and September-y. I have tried many cider recipes over the course of my life, striving to get the best apple cider possible.
I won’t lie—it’s been a difficult quest. The best cider I’ve ever had was at an art opening when I first moved to Southern Illinois in fourth grade, and I did not find a recipe that has even come close until I was 17. I should not be surprised by how difficult my cider journey has been, though. Good cider is a rare treat that is more than worth the struggles one goes through to obtain it.
Cider is an old drink, and what defines cider varies from country-to-country. In the States, cider is a seasonally produced, unfiltered drink made from apples, whereas in other countries, it usually refers to a fermented, alcoholic beverage. In the U.S., this is referred to as hard cider, to differentiate between the versions.
While I’ve had my fair share of hard cider in my life, plain old mulled cider will always come before any other sort of drink, alcoholic or otherwise. Hot cider brings me right back to being 10 again, and every autumn I try to get as much of my liquid nostalgia as even remotely possible.
Consuming as much cider as possible has the potential to mean that I occasionally have to sacrifice quality, but I do my best to find alternatives to mediocre cider. Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at finding many different ways to consume my unfiltered, yearly indulgence.
This means that I will consume apple cider in virtually any form I can get my hands on—apple cider donuts, cake, lattes—I am hardly picky about what it is provided it tastes like apple cider, is delicious, and warm.
The easiest way to get cider is simply to buy it at the store, but, then again, that takes all the fun out of it. Cider is traditionally handmade, with apples that are pressed by hand. An apple press is one of the most important parts of homemade cider production, but there are ways to g get around it.
Unfortunately, I do not own an apple press, which is one of the saddest parts of my life, so I make my cider with unfiltered store bought cider, because my life is miserable. However, if an apple press is on hand, it should be used for the recipe if at all possible.
The first time I tried to make my own mulled cider, I spilled juice down my shirt, burned my hands, tore my cheesecloth bag and generally mucked everything up. To be fair, I was fifteen, hardly the most experienced apple cider chef in the world and terribly uncoordinated. Clearly, not much has changed.
Regardless, I’ve fortunately gotten much better at making mulled cider—I luckily haven’t given myself second degree burns from nearly boiling cider anytime recently—but I still don’t have the apple press or the coordination that I so desperately desire, and so, sadly, my mulled cider will continue to be sub-par, at least by my unnecessarily high standards.
The recipe I’ve found that consistently makes the best cider I’ve made, but not the best cider I’ve had, comes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks blog. The thing that makes it stand out is the addition of maple syrup, and, please, use proper maple syrup. No sugary, corn syrupy gunk is going to produce good cider.
In addition to maple syrup, this particular iteration of mulled cider uses fresh orange and lemon peel, and whole cloves plus some optional rum. For me, I am not particularly interested in adding the rum; I love fermented cider, and I love non-alcoholic cider, but adding rum to unfermented cider does not sit right with me. Regardless, all of the ingredients make for an amazing cider that, while it still does not come close to being the best cider I’ve ever had, it’s definitely pretty darn fantastic in its own right.
Six cups apple cider
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
1 orange peel, shredded
1 lemon peel, shredded
Pour the apple cider and maple syrup into a large stainless steel saucepan.
Place the cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, orange peel and lemon peel in the center of a washed square of cheesecloth; fold up the sides of the cheesecloth to enclose the bundle, then tie it up with a length of kitchen string. Drop the spice bundle into the cider mixture.
Place the saucepan over moderate heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cider is very hot but not boiling.
Remove the cider from the heat. Discard the spice bundle. Ladle the cider into big cups or mugs, adding a fresh cinnamon stick to each serving if desired.