It’s definitely getting cooler outside and I’m so grateful that I put up a dozen quarts of sweet grape juice every year just for Autumn nights like these. I love to heat some up and infuse it with mulling spices, just like you would do with fresh cider or red wine. I make my own mulling spices and to bring out the flavor even more I toast them quickly in my cast iron skillet. I learned this little trick on a magical evening in Paris several years ago from a wine seller in Montmartre. I’ll never forget that starry evening…it was St. Valentines day and Jim and I had walked up to Sacre Couer from our Airbnb to hold hands, listen to the street musicians and look out over the city. As we walked back down the cobblestone road, I smelled the unmistakable fragrance of mulled wine and clove studded oranges. Directly to the right of me was a beautiful little bistro, and out front they had a stock pot full of the best Vin Chaud I’ve ever tasted. I asked the proprietor in my really awful French what made it so good and he generously showed me the trick. This takes a bit more time to make, but I promise it’s worth it and it’s just as good with freshly pressed grape juice. Strolling down the street, arm in arm with Jim and sipping that cup of steaming spiced wine is, to this day, one of my most treasured memories.
My favorite spices to use for this are orange peel, fresh ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, star anise and allspice. After I toss them over the heat for a bit I put them into my mortar and pestle to crush them to bring out even more flavor. After that, into a muslin spice bag they go! Infuse the bag of mulling spice in one quart of simmering grape juice and add a healthy jigger of Madeira or Port.
Soon I’ll be enjoying this steaming hot and outside by a bonfire under next week’s Hunters Moon. Fresh pears, roasted chestnut puree, a crusty bit of baguette and a savory white cheddar are a perfect accompaniment along with the twinkling stars. Try this…you won’t be sorry. It’s a truly satisfying and soul warming Autumn sip.