This is a recipe I developed after several years of trying other people's cider and finding it wanting. I took the best of all the other recipes and combined them here. Make it a day or two in advance; you won't regret it. Yummmm! (This recipe is actually very simple; don't let my stream-of-consciousness instructions discourage you from making it, LOL!)
1I highly recommend making this a day or two in advance as the flavor improves by the hour!
Wash orange and lemon (*see step 8 NOTE): Use warm water with NON-scented dish soap (citrus scent okay), and scrub well with vegetable or fingernail brush. Rinse well and dry thoroughly with a towel, then set aside for about 20 minutes.
No matter how much you scrub, there will still be some of the wax flaking off after the fruit has set for 20 minutes or so. Just before squeezing, use a dry vegetable brush to remove the offending detritus.
2Pour cider into 5 or 6 quart [non aluminum] pot (I use a crock pot). Set heat to medium high (or high if using a simple crock pot). Put spices in pot with cider. Cover pot.
3After dusting off the last of the wax, cut orange in half and squeeze juice from both halves into pot. Put one half of orange into pot.
Dust lemon, cut in half and remove seeds. Squeeze juice from one lemon half into pot and put the squeezed half into the pot (juice from other lemon half can be used if more tartness is desired, but only one half needs to be floated for best flavor… you don’t want your cider tasting like Pledge). Stir. Cover pot.
4Simmer, covered, about 45 minutes (longer is better) (one hour in crock pot on high), but do not boil as this unfavorably affects flavor. Ladle cider into mugs, working around the spices (if desired, cloves and allspice berries can be corralled in a large tea ball or a small muslin bag made for such purposes).
5CROCK POT NOTE: Works well in crock pot or slow cooker, but if your crock pot is 4 quarts or smaller you will have to mix this in a larger pot or bowl and transfer amounts suitable to the size of your crock pot. Use high for first hour or so, then switch to low. Do NOT open lid to check during first hour! Every time you do, you set the time back 15 minutes while it builds up heat again.
For a different flavor, add a few thin slices of peeled fresh ginger, or 2 or 3 star anise clusters. You can also add a handful of fresh whole cranberries (washed).
Some people insist on adding extra sugar, usually brown, but I find that is too sweet for my palate. However, if you want to try it, use about half a cup to one gallon of cider, or you can even try maple syrup (although I never have).
And of course, you can add some alcohol... things like Triple Sec or Grand Marnier are good as are rum, dark or light, and bourbon. Just remember that alcohol evaporates more quickly than water (or in this case, juice) so if you add it directly to the pot while it is actively being heated, the alcohol will go up in vapor fairly quickly. I suggest adding a teaspoon (or more) directly to each cup if you plan to keep the pot on a low burner or in a heated crock pot.
7LEFTOVERS NOTE: If by some strange happenstance you have leftovers, this beverage keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator (leave the spices in, but be sure to remove the orange and lemon halves before storing; I reserve the original cider jugs for this purpose... just be sure to use a funnel when refilling them). The spices will keep it viable for months. I generally take 4 gallons to work during the holidays (we had about 30 people in our office). I usually end up with about a gallon left over (if I’m lucky!). I reheat it by the mug in the microwave, or sometimes just drink it cold straight from the fridge (I have nursed a jug through most of one summer* (see LEFTOVERS NOTE in step 8). Yes, I did, and it was delicious the entire time! [Although, around May I did take out all the spices except one stick of cinnamon]). YUMMM!
If you decide to put in more spices than called for (which will bring the spiced flavor up faster in the beginning), be sure to take out all but 6 of both the cloves and allspice and one of the cinnamon sticks when you store it in the fridge otherwise the spices will be overpowering.
8* ASTERISK NOTES
*NOTE from step 1: Most fruit in the U.S. are sprayed with non-toxic wax to make them look more appealing. Citrus fruits are no exception. You can skip this step if you want, but the wax can form a cloud on the top of your cider which is unattractive.
* LEFTOVERS NOTE from step 7:
This started out accidentally as I had drunk so much of it during the holiday season that I actually got tired of it but still had over half a gallon left. It got pushed to the back of the fridge and I forgot about it until May when I did spring cleaning, LOL. I smelled it, testing for mold (I'm allergic and always sneeze when I get a whiff of mold--quite handy when checking leftovers, LOL!). Finding none, I tasted it (cold) and found it quite as delightful as when I put it in the fridge, although the spices were about as strong as I cared for, so I took them out, except for the cinnamon stick as a continued preservative. I had a glass a week until it ran out. It was delightful the entire time and I suspect it could have lasted significantly longer since the flavor never varied (note, however, that the citrus pulp did turn dark; if this bothers you, you can strain it out). Of course, you can also freeze the stuff if you need the room in your fridge, although I have never done so.