Last year, I wrote this article for another blog. It didn’t end up getting used so I thought I’d share it here.
The days are darker and the nights are colder. Traditionally, this is the time for hot drinks like cocoa and spiced cider. Not only are they warming but they are designed to help us survive the winter. Fruit based drinks such as spiced cider are filled with simple sugars to provide energy as well as encourage the development of fat. Milk based drinks such as chai and cocoa have the added benefit of protein.
I know, I just said that they will make you fat. Our modern society has a fear of fat but our diet was designed to encourage weight gain through the early winter so that we could survive through spring when food would be scarcest. More importantly, these drinks were designed to give us the nutrients we needed when many foods were not at their peak.
The addition of herbs and spices not only improved flavor but simmer drinks such as spiced cider and chai were designed to fragrance the air and offer medicinal properties. These are drinks I want to focus on for this post.
There are a number of liquids that can be used for a simmer – wine, tea, fruit juice. Mix and match to your heart’s desire. They all usually include sugar but you decide how much. I add sugar if my base is tart or not exactly my favorite flavor. This is a great way to use up wines that you opened but didn’t like. Spices and sugar will alter the flavor making it a more enjoyable drink.
The spices used in winter recipes are a combination that may include cinnamon, ginger, allspice, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg. These are also spices that are medicinal as well as culinary.
I started to break down and explain the benefits of each spice but they have so many qualities in common, it became repetitive. All of these spices are known to be warming. The warming effects stave off the cold and increase body temperature which helps the body fight off illness. They are highly nutritious, each containing their own combination of minerals and anti-oxidants. They are immune boosting and assist with digestion. These spices offer a balance to the traditional winter diet which is fatty and high in refined carbs.
A few things to note – Cinnamon helps balance blood sugar. Cardamom helps with depression. Cloves have a numbing effect (which is important to note because you don’t want to add too many, it’s hard to drink when your tongue is numb).
You can add these spices to your simmer however you see fit. If you like a little more cinnamon, a little less nutmeg – great. There is no real recipe here. That’s what I love about simmers. I add what inspires me because that’s usually what I need the most.
Not only can you add spices to your simmers but hit the pantry and pull out the dried fruit. Dried apples and citrus are traditional additions to simmer drinks.
I’ve included a few recipes at the end of this post for those who are more comfortable having a recipe to follow. I often use this same spice combination in apple cider. However, I rarely follow the exact recipe anymore but I’ve never gotten around to changing it.
One last note – don’t feel like you have to stick with fresh spices. I’ve often subbed ginger tea or powdered ginger for fresh ginger. While the flavor is better when it’s fresh, I can’t always get it. Same goes for any of the spices – use what you have and taste often. If you end up using powdered spices, strain through a coffee filter (but not if you have milk or sugar in the drink because they stick) or a fine cloth like muslin. Most of the powdered spices do settle so you may not have to strain.
No matter how you approach a simmer, it will improve your winter experience. I like to start a pot minus the milk and sugar and simmer it all day long without concern that it will scorch. I keep the tea strainer nearby so anyone can get a cup when they desire. The simmering of the liquid helps increase the temperature and moisture in our home. The scent makes us joyful and the day feel sunny.
I never hesitate to get some organic cream for the tea or use our favorite local honey. I can splurge a little here and feel like we’ve gotten a great big treat. Using home canned juice or our favorite fall apple (dried) reminds us of summer and all the wonderful experiences we had when the sun was shining.
Winters are long and cold here in the Pacific Northwest. Simmers and lots of family time are how we survive. There’s nothing like a mug filled with spiced cider to get me thinking about the next year’s canning. What better way to pass the time than sitting back with canning cookbooks, garden catalogs, and simmers on the stove.
½ cup milk plus more to taste
3-inch stick cinnamon
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced or 1 teas grated ginger
2 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
4 teaspoon sugar and more to taste
4 tea bags
In large saucepan combine 5 cups of water, milk, spices and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let set for 5-10 minutes. Add tea bags and bring to boil for a second time. Reduce heat to low and let simmer 5 minutes. Check for flavor and add more sugar and milk if needed. Can strain and serve at that time or leave on slow simmer and drink on all day, straining tea into cups – be sure not to let all the water evaporate.
*I used the cheapest bottle of cabernet I could find at the store for this recipe. The result was amazing. Feel free to sub sugar or, even, brown sugar for the honey.
1 bottle red wine
½ cup honey, to taste
2 slices orange (dried or fresh)
2 slices lemon (dried or fresh)
2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches each)
6 whole cloves
3 pods or about 10 seeds cardamom
4 allspice berries
Heat the wine on medium heat. Add honey, about a tablespoon at a time, until just about the desired sweetness (the liquid will evaporate a little). Once sweetened, add the remaining ingredients. Simmer on medium low for a minimum of 20 minutes. Strain out spices before drinking or storing. I like to leave the spices while the wine is still simmering even if we are drinking it and strain as I pour into cups, returning the spices to the pot. Serve hot or chill to serve cold.