For the next four and a half weeks, nights will grow a bit longer every day. Yesterday, I felt the onset of evening before 4 p.m.

At first I resist this diminishing of natural light, a reaction that I believe is in our very blood, an atavistic emotion bestow by our earliest ancestors, who surely must have felt a sense of doom and despair as the earth sank into darkness for its annual rest. But once I shake off my initial resistance, I love this time of year and wish I could head north, to Barrow, Alaska, and experience winter at its most dramatic. Twenty-four hours of darkness? It sounds so interesting.

Instead, I savor each afternoon here in western Sonoma County where I make my home, with a good fire in the wood stove if it is cold and a yummy hot drink if it is really cold, which it has been. Anything from a cup of my favorite tea to Lamb’s Wool, traditionally enjoyed on Twelfth Night, allows me to slow down for a few minutes and enjoy the particular quality of light as the sun sinks down into the gray horizon. One of things I dislike about the holiday season is the frenzy to meet all of the expectations instilled by advertisers. It seems like a conspiracy to distract us from what is happening in the natural world and, increasingly, I’ll have none of it. I find the quiet, the darkness and even the cold healing and, somehow, invigorating. I need this time, as much as I need the renewal of spring and celebration of summer’s long leisurely days.

As promised in both Seasonal Pantry and on Krush Bites, my Friday radio segment with Morning Host Brian Griffith, here is a recipe for Lamb’s Wool and links to some of my other favorite hot beverages from the Seasonal Pantry archives.

For the Lamb’s Wool, you might consider using Ace Premium Hard Ciders, made in Sebastopol. Although not traditional, Ace Pear Cider is great in this drink, but be sure to taste before adding sugar, as it is quite sweet. If you prefer ale, choose one of the many delicious locally made pale ales.

Ahwahnee Hotel’s Wassail

My Chai

Malvi Doshi’s Masalawali Chai

Bombay Cafe’s Masala Chai

Tea with Mint & Cardamom

Madhur Jaffrey’s Saffron Tea

Lamb’s Wool

Baking apples intensifies their flavors, unlike poaching, which dilutes the taste.

  • 8 apples
  • Boiling water
  • 2 quarts apple or pear cider (sweet or hard) or pale ale
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 3-inch piece of vanilla bean
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped or crushed
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • Whole nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Brandy or Calvados, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Set the apples in a deep baking dish, add 1/4-inch of boiling water, cover and bake until the apples are very tender, from 25 to 45 minutes, depending on variety. Remove the apples from the oven and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile,pour the cider or ale into a large saucepan, set over very low low heat and add half the sugar, the vanilla bean, the ginger, the ginger, the cinnamon and several gratings of fresh nutmeg. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep while the apples cook.
  4. When the apples are cool enough to handle, cut each in half lengthwise and pass through a potato ricer. If you do not have a ricer, peel and core the apple and pass through a food mill fitted with its largest blade.
  5. Remove the vanilla bean, ginger and cinnamon from cider or ale and stir in the apples. Taste and if you’d like it sweeter, stir in the remaining half cup of sugar.
  6. Add the butter and when it is melted, ladle into cups or pour into a pitcher and serve immediately.
  7. If you like, add a shot of Brandy or Calvados to each portion.