Mulled Wine and Minced Pies; their Oddities and Risks

Yesterday’s tea confused us. Today’s…well, today’s is odd. It’s called Mulled Wine Oolong, and incontrovertibly it tastes of mulled wine. Specifically of mulled wine if you took out the alcohol content. The bizarre thing here is that it tastes not at all of oolong. This is strange less because it’s a tea (though there’s that too) but because oolong is such a pungent sort of tea. You ferment the leaves to make an oolong, so it always has something of a smoky taste. Smoky isn’t quite the right word, but it’s late and the right word for that particular flavour eludes us. The point is, it should be ideally suited for something calling itself Mulled Wine Tea. You’d expect the underlying notes here to be the musk of the oolong. Instead the spices and candied fruit overwhelm it, which says a lot about the strength of the flavouring, because a normal fruit blend won’t undercut an oolong. We drink them all the time; orange oolong, oolong with raspberry, with lemon and citrus.

That’s not to say Mulled Wine Oolong is a bad tea. As we say, it’s an eerily effective rendition of mulled wine. Drink it with a mince pie and enjoy yourself. Just don’t expect it to taste like tea.

We’re thinking of mince pies as a companion piece here not a little because we miss them over in Canada. We can’t buy them for love or money this side of the water, whereas we used to be spoiled for selection. We never actually went out of our way to buy them, but they always seemed to be on hand at Christmas receptions or as sweets after supper – maybe a friend passed them round over afternoon tea. We keep meaning to make them, but since we can’t find the mince over here either, and making it up from scratch is an alarming amount of effort, that has so far come to nothing.

We did look, but found no literature on the mince pie. Personally, we blame Oliver Cromwell, who famously declared them – and Christmas – illegal back when he was running England. The country then, like good, absent-minded Englishers, forgot to reinstate both as legal thereafter. So it’s really very daring, the buying and selling of mince pies. This may explain the total lack of them in Canada, what with our track record of historically declining to offend Britain.

Instead, here’s a poem on something called Christmas Plum Cake. We make this a plum pudding, but if anyone has different ideas, do write in. You can get hold of plum pudding in Canada, incidentally. It was a staple of Christmases in Guelph, growing up, where only our grandfather ate it. Here’s hoping you have more appetite for the poem.

To Mrs K____, on Sending Me an English Plum Cake

Helen Maria WIlliams

What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!

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