THE simplest pleasures can be the most rewarding – especially at Christmas.
It’s supposed to be the season of goodwill, but it would be fair to say that most of us struggle to sustain the feeling, especially over the actual Christmas holiday when the children are flying higher than Santa’s sleigh, no one wants to help you in the kitchen and the only food on the menu is turkey morning, noon and night.
Things are likely to be worse than usual this year – with Christmas falling on a weekend there’s an extra two days’ holiday to contend with.
It’s then the tempers start to fray and you know it’s time for some fresh, festive air.
That’s where one of life’s simpler pleasures comes into its own – walking.
A long and leisurely Boxing Day stroll has always been a tradition in our family. Depending on the weather we’ll either head for the hills or the coast. It’s a chance to blow away the cobwebs, burn off the four pounds in lard that seems to have become attached to your waist and re-attune your eyes to three-dimensional viewing after all the telly.
Then it will be home for a late lunch and one of my favourite festive treats – mulled wine.
There is something very special about coming in from the cold and smelling the spicy aroma of mulled wine. It doesn’t just smell wonderful, it tastes great too. And, of course, it keeps you warm on a cold day.
Which is why we’ll be serving it here at Gibside on December 28 and 30. You’ll be able to find out what a Georgian Christmas was like on a series of family winter walks while warming up on delicious mulled wine and mince pies.
The perfect festive opportunity to pick yourself up and go.
I always make my own mulled wine over the festive season – both with and without alcohol so little ones can join in the fun too.
As you will be adding spices, sugar and possibly fruit to the mix, there’s no need to spend too much on the wine. At the same time, don’t be tempted to go for the cheapest either as it will taste even worse when warmed.
I find wines from Chile, Portugal, Spain and Hungary are best with their deep fruit flavour – perfect for mulling.
The spice combinations always include cinnamon and cloves often with the addition of nutmeg, mace, star anise, allspice berries, cardamom pods, slices of fresh ginger and orange and lemon zest.
Depending on your taste buds, you may want to sweeten the infusion. You can use brown or white sugar or maple syrup, but my preferred option is local honey.
You can add a touch of tartness to the brew with orange, lemon or lime juice, while I know people who like to fortify their mulled wine with a splash of brandy. Never let the wine boil as it will impair the flavour.
It just leaves me to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Gibside, Burnopfield, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, NE16 6BG, 01207 541 820, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside. The landscape garden, walks and stables are open seven days a week, 10am-4pm, throughout the winter. The larder, shop and tea room is open 11am-3.30pm Monday-Sunday. Closed December 24-25.
A Georgian Winter Walk at Gibside, December 28 and 30, 11.30am and 2pm.
Join Gibside’s servants as they prepare for a Georgian winter in 1813. Find out more about Christmas customs and how they survived the cold while warming up with mulled wine and mince pies, plus dressing up for children. Costs £6 per adult and £4 per child.
Page 2: Mulled wine recipe and tips
This is an easy mulled wine recipe for the festive season, brimming with Christmassy aromatic citrus spice.
200ml white wine
250ml red wine
Half an orange
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
To make the orange syrup:
Squeeze the orange and then roughly chop the remaining orange peel and flesh.
Mix the orange juice and pieces in a pan with the water and sugar and bring to the boil.
Remove the roughly chopped orange pieces.
To make the mulled wine:
Add the orange syrup, cinnamon and ginger and boil for two minutes.
Add the wine and warm through.
FOOD FACT OF THE FORTNIGHT
‘Mulled’ simply means heated with spices. In Medieval times mulled wines were more commonly known as Ypocros or Hipocris, named after the Greek physician Hippocrates.
Sanitation at this time was poor and many believed it healthier to drink mulled wine than water.
Making: There are a number of variations on the classic drink, but essentially it is red wine, water, sugar, cinnamon with the option of sliced lemon and orange. The water, sugar and spices are heated to near boiling point and then left to infuse for around 10 minutes. It is then that the wine is added and the mixture re-heated. But you must never allow it to boil as you will be boiling off the alcohol.
Storage: If you wish to store your mulled wine, allow it to cool and pour the strained drink into bottles. Avoid adding the fruit as it tends to go soggy.
WHERE TO BUY
You can buy ready-made mulled wine. Most of the major supermarkets sell their own-label bottles or you can buy pre-mixes of mulling spices. But do make the effort to do your own – it is fun to prepare and more Christmassy.