A foreign remedy could help battle the cold this winter

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A mug of steaming glühwein (glow wine), a variation on an ancient recipe, is the epitome of yuletide cheer. (TOM HARTE)

"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" Shelly asked. Perhaps not, but in the meantime we have the challenge of keeping warm until it does arrive.

Some days that challenge is formidable, as when we experience, in the words of award-winning children's author Jane Barclay, "a freezing, sneezing, goose-bumpy, teeth-chattering, can't-get-out-of-bed, blankets-over-my-head kind of cold." And, unless we take refuge in Hawaii or some place with a similar climate, we are bound to face days like that this winter.

So how do we fend off the chill? There are lots of things you can do, including dressing warmly, staying healthy and engaging in relentless cuddling.

But my favorite way to make it through the winter is to warm up with hot drinks, whether lattes, herbal teas, hot chocolate or plain old fashioned warm milk. And my very favorite hot drink, especially during the holidays, is glühwein.

Glühwein is German for "glow wine" and you have only to look at the cheeks of someone who has downed a few mugs to see how apt the name is. Basically it is wine (usually red) which has been heated with spices (usually cinnamon and cloves), some fruit (usually oranges and lemons) and a little sugar. It is the traditional holiday beverage of Germany.

A vat of steaming glühwein is ready to ladle. This traditional holiday beverage of Germany, which is wine heated with sugar and spices, will keep you aglow throughout the holidays no matter how cold the weather gets. (TOM HARTE)

I first became happily acquainted with glühwein some years ago while visiting the Christmas market in Nuremberg, the most famous one in Germany.

There just about everybody, even Roman Catholic nuns we discovered, carries a mug of the stuff, characteristically holding it in both hands so as to warm the fingers and facilitate inhaling the brew's spicy aroma. And it really does the trick. The Germans don't hunker down inside during winter as we often do, rather they go outside and embrace the cold. So far as I can tell, the more than 13 million gallons of glühwein they consume annually over the holidays is their primary defense against the weather.

Of course, the Germans didn't invent mulled wine, despite its ubiquity in their country and the fact that the oldest known glühwein tankard, dating to around 1420, belonged to a German nobleman, Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen, who, incidentally, was the person who pioneered the Riesling grape. Firmly established as a highly prized drink by the Middle Ages where it was a favorite of the French knight Baron Gilles de Rais, one of Joan of Arc's more notorious companions-in-arms, its origins can actually be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

The precursor to just about all of our holiday drinks -- ranging from glogg, to wassail, to negus and more -- was hippocras, a heated spiced wine named after the father of medicine, Hippocrates, who figured it had healing properties. Moreover, the wines back then, considerably less sophisticated than even a bottle of today's Two Buck Chuck, could use some sugar and spice, and when it came to maintaining health were probably safer to drink than the water anyway.

For me, German glühwein constitutes the preeminent variation of this ancient concoction and is the epitome of yuletide cheer. Though you can buy it ready-made even in this country, the best version is the one you make yourself. The process is simple and you have to be careful about only one thing: Do not let your glühwein boil. That will only dissipate the alcohol and with it that holiday glow.

Though bottles of pre-mixed German glühwein like this are available even in this country, the best version is always homemade.

Glühwein

As the Oxford Companion to Wine observes, quantities are not critical when concocting this brew, but this recipe, adapted from chef Robert Ulrich of the Mendoberri Café and Wine War in Mendota Heights, Minn., where the climate is conducive to the imbibing of warm beverages, provides a good blueprint.

1 bottle red wine, preferably merlot

1/2 cup sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 to 2 whole star anise

2 oranges, thinly sliced

1 lemon, thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Do not boil. Let steep and simmer for one hour. Strain and serve very warm.

Tom Harte's book, "Stirring Words," is available at local bookstores. A Harte Appetite airs at 8:49 a.m. Fridays on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Contact Tom at semissourian.com or at the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699.

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