We drink it every Christmas (in fact, I’ve already been glugging away at it over this last weekend!), and many of us see it as an integral part of a ‘traditional’ festive celebration. These days, you can even buy it ready-made in most supermarkets – although it really does taste much nicer if you make it from scratch (see below for some easy recipes to try).
We all know that it’s a spicy and warming seasonal tipple, but what exactly is mulled wine? Where does it come from? How ‘traditional’ is it? Has the recipe changed over time? And, more precisely, what on earth is ‘mulling’ when it’s at home anyway?
Put very simply, to ‘mull’ wine means to heat and spice it, often adding fruit to the mixture too. This process infuses the wine with the spice (and fruit) flavours, giving it that familiar warming kick. Other alcoholic drinks can also be mulled, including cider, mead, ale and brandy, as well as fruit juices.
Variations on this theme of adding spice to booze have been popular for centuries in many European countries, and there are historical records of a number of old English recipes for mulled wine – some of which date back as far as the fourteenth century, although these recipes were almost certainly very old even then.
I don’t often post recipes, but it’s now June, and that means the real beginning of summertime (we’re now only a couple of weeks away from the summer solstice and the longest day, believe it or not). And summertime means barbeques and picnics and parties and outdoor fun – assuming it doesn’t rain, of course, and that’s a big assumption to make about the British summertime!
Of course, barbeques, picnics and parties – enjoyable though they are on their own – are not really complete without something fizzy and preferably alcoholic to get happily drunk on while sitting in the park or the back garden with your mates and your sunnies on.
The popularity of Pimms as the essential summer drink in recent years is all very well (don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff), but here’s a few slightly different ideas for quick, easy and delicious summery sort-of-cocktails, most of which were inspired by friends and family.
“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die. —
That strain again; it had a dying fall:
O, it came oer my ear, like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing, and giving odour! Enough! No more.
‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before”
– Duke Orsino, Twelfth Night: Act One, Scene One
Without doubt, those are some of the most famous opening lines in the history of English literature. You may recognise them from your school days; from studying Shakespeare in English classes. Twelfth Night is easily my favourite of all the Bard’s plays; it is fun, subversive and full of mistaken identities, game-playing with gender (and thus, to a modern eye, sexualities too), and out-and-out Shakespearean farce.
Far beyond the ‘boring Shakespeare’ many of us encountered at school, methinks…
Written sometime around the turn of the 16th century (dating Shakespeare’s plays is not an exact science), and probably first performed in 1602 at London’s Middle Temple Hall in the Inns of Court as part of that year’s Christmas festivities, the plot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night vividly echoes the riotous reversals and noisy fun of the real life medieval Twelfth Night holiday celebrations – in fact, it was written to be (and often still is) performed as part of these Twelfth Night celebrations
“It’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on personal freedom is what it is, OK? Keep that in mind at all times. Thank you. They lump all drugs together. It’s not going to work…” – Bill Hicks, 1990
Hicks had a point, you know. But, then again, he frequently did. On that showing, and if he were still alive, I’d probably be lobbying for him to replace Professor David Nutt, the scientific advisor to the British government on the subject of illegal substances, who was unfairly sacked by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson at the end of last week (two of Nutt’s colleagues have since resigned in support of his stance).
And why was Nutt sacked? Simply because he dared to take a stand on the relative dangers of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy that actually took into consideration the scientific evidence, rather than simply toeing the government policy line on the assumed risks associated with such substances.
Final proof, if any were needed, that drug policy in this country bears no resemblance to scientific fact and has everything to do with the assumptions and prejudices of politicians; many of whom seem to be stuck in the 1950s in their attitudes towards drugs anyway – Gordon Brown’s public pronouncement in April 2008 that cannabis is a ‘lethal’ drug being but one example of how out of touch this government is on the matter.
The drug issue has always been a complex and emotive one. There are and will always be risks associated with drug use, risks which cannot be underestimated or ignored – but the vast majority of illegal drug users in this country (and there are many) have positive and enjoyable experiences on their substances of choice, much like those who enjoy a social and legal pint or two in the pub of a weekend.