The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Hawthorn

Mulled Cider

When the leaves begin to turn and the air turns chill, when the fields are full of pumpkins and browning cornstalks, then it is time for cider. It should be the official drink of autumn, if you ask me. When I see it arrive on the shelves at the store, then I know, beyond any conceivable doubt, that summer days are now behind me.

Last night we had our first frost warning, and the air turned brisk with the hint of winter on its breath. The wood-stove was lit for the first time, and to celebrate we put a pan of cider filled with spice on top to bubble away and fill the house with its comforting sweetness and warmth. I must say, the scent of wood smoke, the feel of a warm blazing fire, and the scent of apple marrying with cloves and cinnamon is one of the real pleasures of life. It almost (and I say almost) makes one excited about the cold.

While plain ol’ cider is wonderful, mulled cider is a thing perfectly suited in all ways for a chilly day. To hold the warm mug in your hands, inhale steam laced with notes of apple and orange peel, taste sweetness and feel the spice in your belly – is warming in a deeply comforting way. We make it often on those brisk autumn evenings, sipping it huddled next the stove and listening the crackling of wood and wind howling down the chimney.  It is a yearly tradition, a ritual.

Aside from the usual warming spices, I like to throw in a handful of some rooty goodness as well: a little astragalus and Siberian ginseng, two roots that bolster the immune system and help the body adapt to the stress of seasonal changes. Both taste slightly sweet and mostly bland, so they lend little in flavor, but lots in goodness. Paired with all those blood moving, digestive fire kindling and antioxidant packed spices, mulled cider is not only delicious but a health-tonic as well!

A variety of spices can go into mulled cider, and it’s really up to personal preference (or for me, fishing around the spice cabinet and seeing what calls) what you will put in.  While the ingredients vary from night to night in our house, they most often include the following: a few thin slices of fresh ginger;  the zest of an orange; a few cinnamon sticks; a few cloves and star-anise pods; a bit of mace; a few juniper and allspice berries; a vanilla pod and a handful of astragalus and Siberian ginseng roots.  I’ve also been known to throw in some hawthorn berries, a few cardamom pods or even a bay leaf when the mood takes me.

All the ingredients are put into a pan with a half-gallon of cider, and left to simmer on very low heat (or perched atop the wood-stove) for a good 20-30 minutes with a cover on.  Once it’s mulled to your liking, strain it into mugs and top off with a bit of rum if it’s an extra cold night.

Cheers to the beginning of autumn!

Harvesting

Autumn has begun to ever so subtly make herself known – brushing a leaf here or there with gold or crimson; whispering to the air with crisp breath; casting her spell of ripening sweetness over the garden. Her call,  subtle though it is, gently beckons the spirits of us all to retreat back within, to begin that journey to the very deepest bosom of our being. The feeling is unmistakable, a sense returning to yourself, of coming home.

And so there is such tremendous comfort to fall – especially now when the days have only the merest hint of briskness to them, when the sun still shines brightly and warms your skin. Everywhere one looks there is something to comfort – something to nourish – something to please. But the pleasure is muted and soft, the nourishment of a sweeter and heartier note than that of other seasons. The meadows are seas of lavenders and yellows – goldenrod, asters, the treacherous thorns of brambles concealing luscious plum-colored berries. Everywhere there is the blush of an apple concealed behind a leaf, the vivid orange of a the rowan berries visible deep in the woods. Everywhere there is a harvest.

My own apple trees are providing their own small contribution. It is the first in the three years that we’ve lived here that they’ve produced fruit. The apples are small but delightfully sweet and crisp. Already they’ve filled a pie, been baked into crumbles, filled jars of apple sauce and a batch of garden “glutney” along with other wild apples scavenged from the plethora of trees growing along every road side here in Vermont. I’ve  been wondering what has prompted them after so many years to produce again, and can’t help but fancy that perhaps it was just for us.

Down in the wet and marshy places, the elders have put out their harvest. Those heavy hanging clusters of blue-black berries are a favorite food and medicine of mine (please visit this post to read more), and a day spent in sweet autumn sunshine filling my basket and staining my fingers purple is a day particularly well spent. Aside from my usual batch of elderberry syrup to keep family and friends well through the winter months, they’ve ended up along with my wild apples in a pie and crumble; cooked down into an elderberry ketchup and slow cooked in vinegar with ginger, cloves and black pepper to make an old sauce known as “pontack” that I’m just dying to try (though I’m supposed to age it 7 months first – we’ll see if I can make it).

And for the first time since childhood, I’ve given to playing with the rowan berries again. We had a tremendous rowan (or Mountain Ash is the tree is also known) in the backyard. Many of my days in the late summer were spent gathering berries from that tree, smashing them up in a bowl with leaves and twigs and little bits of grass while my mother watched nervously from the kitchen window. Funny how little we change! Their flavor raw leaves much to be desired, and that is really an understatement. But cooked down with apples, hawthorn berries or other wild fruits of the season (blackberry, rose hip, etc), and a substantial amount of sugar (necessary in this case I assure you), they transform into an absolutely delicious jelly or syrup – especially with a little measure of whiskey added for good taste.

I hope you all are enjoying the harvests of autumn as well – whether from your garden, the wild places, or simply the joys you have harvested from this past season of your life. Enjoy them all, and welcome home.

Imbolc: Awakening the heart

Though it may seem difficult to conceive with the weather bringing us such cold and wintry days, today marks the ancient Celtic celebration known as Imbolc, when the first signs of life begin to stir within the earth in anticipation of Spring. Traditionally this festival marked the lambing of the ewes (or sheep), deriving from the old Gealic i mblog meaning “in the belly.” Though the air was still crisp and cold with winter’s breath, the birthing of lambs and the flow of sheep’s milk in the fells and valleys of the British Isles was as sure a sign of Spring to the Shepherds as the first delicate flowers of April are to us today.

And as life begins to stir and awaken within the earth, so it does within us. We begin to stir from our winter’s slumbers, and our hearts and spirits begin to slowly awaken to the world around us. That inwards, dreamy flow of energy that encompasses winter turns on its course and slowly makes its way outwards again like a trickling stream breaking through the ice.

And while winter’s energy is marked by dreaming and deep introspection, this awakening is written with love. Love is the key that awakens the spirit and opens the heart; it directs our energy outwards and peeks our senses; it allows us to perceive and experience the beauty around us.  As such, it is no surprise that Valentine’s day falls around this time as well: a day to celebrate and honor the awakening of our hearts.

Herbs that open, protect and strengthen the heart can be enlisted to support us in the awakening process. Often times, the cold and dark of winter can create fear within us that prevents us from re-opening our hearts. We feel vulnerable and insecure in the world, and can’t seem to connect to the beauty and love that it offers to us. Heart herbs can provide the sense of protection and support we require to let our fears go and awaken with courage and strength. Here are some favorites:

Hawthorn: Hawthorn is a heart tonic that both emotionally and physically protects the heart from the insults of everyday life. It offers a sense of protection and security to those who feel vulnerable and need a sense of boundary.

Linden: Linden is soothing and relaxing to the nervous system. Used for people with stress-induced hypertension, it protects the heart by relieving anxiety and stress. It offers a sense of peace and tranquility to those who are too riddled by stress to open to their surroundings or to others.

Mimosa: Mimosa is called “collective happiness bark” in China. It uplifts and soothes the spirits, helping to recover the heart’s sense of love and joy after grief or hurt have inundated the heart with deep sadness. Enhances the heart’s capacity to experience joy.

Rose: Rose is the flower of love. It has a deeply soothing and restorative effect on the nervous system, and is good for re-opening the heart after heartbreak or grief have caused a person to shut down. It especially helps those whose own lack of self love and insecurity prevent them from opening themselves to others. It strengthens self-confidence and helps one to appreciate their own beauty.

Sacred Basil: Sacred basil is said to open the heart and spirit to the joy of life. It opens the crown chakra, where inspiration is received. It soothes the nervous system, protects the physical heart and enhances one’s sense of well-being, capacity for joy, and ability to give and receive from the heart.

So on this ancient day of awakening life, celebrate your own awakening by honoring the emotion of love. Begin to move out of your winter’s hibernation by seeing the beauty of what surrounds you; by offering your awareness and compassion to others. Send a letter to an old friend; compliment a stranger; hug your sweetheart or surprise someone with a gesture of kindness. Keep a gratitude journal of things each day you feel grateful for. Sip a steaming cup of sacred basil and rose tea. Compassion, love, gratitude and kindness all deeply nourish the spirit and strengthen the heart as she opens herself to the world; and allow you to joyfully awaken as Spring begins to stir.