When looking for a quick and easy Christmas present, many of us grab a bottle of wine, toss it in a bag and add a bow. The Victorians were no different. Consequently, many of us end up with several bottles of wine, as did they. Not a problem – depending on the quality of the wine, most of it ended up in a saucepan as a base for mulled wine – the perfect antidote for a cold winter evening.
Although most associate the tradition and invention of mulled wine with Victorians, and especially Charles Dickens, that is not the case. True – Mr. Dickens popularized the beverage by his mention of the Smoking Bishop, the name given to the warm drink, which was shared by Mr. Scrooge with his employees after his transformation. At least, Mr. Dickens can be given credit for keeping the tradition alive.
As to the invention – most scholars and experts give credit for the invention of warm wine with spices to the 2nd century Romans. The Romans were big fans of wine, and the evenings in Italy can be quite chilly. Anything to add warmth! Their early recipes incorporated honey, pepper and saffron. Its appearance throughout Europe dates to the early 1600s, and the tradition has been kept alive throughout the centuries.
A popular Victorian recipe included two bottles of red wine, peeled zest and juice of two oranges. pared zest of one lemon, one cup (or
more) of Cointreau, two cinnamon sticks, three star anise, four cloves, several tablespoons of golden caster sugar and orange slices for garnish. Everything is put in a large pot to simmer, except for the orange slices. It must only simmer – never boil. The alcohol must not be boiled away! When the concoction is sufficiently warm, it is served in a cup with a slice of orange on the top. Warms your cockles on those cold winter nights! Plus – there is no better use for the not so expensive wine one might have received!