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Apples Doused in Cardamom Wine

This recipe was inspired by The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente. It is the second book of the now-complete series (the first was The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden), and it was just published a few weeks ago. It is brilliant and beautiful, rich and deep, powerful, and important for you to read.

(Obligatory disclaimer: Cat is a friend of mine. But these books are so wondrous that I would recommend them even if I didn’t know her at all.)

The stories in these books are told by a girl with ink-stained, story-stained eyes, to a young son of the Sultan who escapes the watch of his older sister to come out into the garden and hear them. The stories are nested each within each like dolls, like the tales from Arabian Nights, all twining together to make a larger epic. They are not fairy tales, exactly, because they have plots and characters with lives of their own, men and women and beasts who are real people stalking the pages of these books.

In Cities of Coin and Spice, a young Djinn, one of the queens of the Djinn army surrounding a dying city where only the artists and performers remain, enters the city alone to search for a small object. She is caught up in the tales of its inhabitants, and just before the army begins to crash up against the gate, she thinks:

“I think I might have stayed there, I might have walked through the Carnival with a child’s hand in mine, eaten apples doused in cardamom wine and told her how once, when I was very young, I had seen the old Queen dancing in her lonely hall, her embers red as bleeding, and I thought she was so beautiful, then. I thought she must be so happy. I might have done those things.”

When I came across that, it occurred to me that I happened to have home-brewed cardamom wine in abundance already.

You see, this past April, I began brewing a batch of Herbal Masala mead (so named because the spicing was based on that of Kalustyan’s Herbal Masala Chai) – honey wine with cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger. Months later, when we racked and bottled it, we found that the cardamom was the strongest note, the flavor that with each sip blew each of us away.

This recipe is inspired by the dreams of a queen of the Djinn seduced by a dying city. She might have walked through the Carnival eating these apples, poached in cardamom honey wine and filled with cardamom whipped cream. She might have.

But she didn’t.

I did, though. And you can.

This is my first gift to the newborn book. And given the overflowing inspiration of it, I am sure this will not be my last.

Apples Doused in Cardamom Wine
Cardamom honey wine (recipe below)
Heavy cream
Ground cardamom

Peel the apples and core them from the bottom with a melon baller. Put them in a saucepan with enough cardamom honey wine to cover. It helps to add clean glass paperweights to bring the level of the wine up if necessary, and you may also want to weight the apples down with the lid of a smaller pot to keep them from floating.

Simmer until they are soft, which you can test with a knife.

When they are done, remove them with a slotted spoon, then raise the heat and boil the wine until it becomes a syrup.

While that’s going on, make the cardamom whipped cream by beating heavy cream with ground cardamom to taste. You probably don’t want to add any sugar here, since the other elements of this dish are so sweet already.

Serve the poaches apples with the cardamom honey wine syrup and cardamom whipped cream. You can sprinkle sugar atop the apples and brulee it with a kitchen torch for extra beauty and tasty crunch.

Cardamom Honey Wine, a/k/a Herbal Masala Mead
15 lbs roman olive honey
1.5 lbs fresh ginger, peeled, and cut into chunks
2 oz cinnamon sticks
20ish vanilla beans, split in half the long way
3/4 oz green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
A packet of champagne yeast

Put all ingredients except for the water and yeast in a large pot over medium-low heat and simmer gently, stirring, for about 30 minutes, or until the honey is liquid like water. You can skim the foam off, but you don’t have to if you’d rather not. It has impurities, but it also has flavor.

Let it cool until it is about blood temperature, or slightly above.

Start your yeast in a cup with a bit of warm water, and leave it be until it gets foamy.

Sterilize a 5-6 gallon glass carboy.

Remove the ginger from the honey and discard, but leave the rest of the spices in there.

Add some water to the carboy, then some honey, then some water, and keep going until you have about 5 gallons of liquid in there altogether. Stir in the yeast. Put on a vacuum lock.

Cover the carboy (sunlight would wreck this project) and forget about it for 3-6 months. I wrapped mine in a blanket and stuck it in the corner of my living room, nestled between bookshelves. You should be able to hear it bubbling a bit and smell alcohol when you check on it the next day.

Rack the mead (remove the mead with a plastic tube, leaving the gunk on the bottom behind) into bottles. (We racked most of ours into half-gallon mason jars.) If you want, you can do a secondary ferment to carbonate it – I did this quite by accident with some of my sealed mason jars, actually.

The longer you let it age, the smoother and tastier it will be.

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14 Responses to “Apples Doused in Cardamom Wine”

  1. brilynn says:

    I love finding inspiration when you’re not expecting to. The apples, wine and books all sound great!

  2. Dana says:

    YUM. Maybe it’s just my current mood, or your glorious photos, but I’m clawing at my screen right now. Those look and sound SO GOOD. Right up my alley.

  3. Annemarie says:

    The wine is luxuriant looking – like liquid amber. I imagine this smells fantastic, too…

  4. I too love it when a novel inspires me in the kitchen and wow, Masala Mead? I SO have to try that! Exotic & delicious.

  5. Sara says:

    It does look just like amber, which is only appropriate given the book that inspired it! :) Thank you for this fabulous recipe. This mead is so on my list of projects for the upcoming year. :)


  6. Mike V. says:

    Maybe the spices help, but I’ve found that mead really needs a lot more than just six months before it’s drinkable. I rack it out twice over the course of a year, and a lot of my homebrewer friends think that I’m impatient.

  7. Danielle says:

    Brilynn – I encourage you to buy the book and come visit for the mead!

    Dana, Annmarie – Thanks!

    Ari – Yes, exactly. The title of your blog says it all, really!

    Sara – Oh, yes! I wasn’t even thinking about that when taking these photos, but you’re right!

    Mike – Y’know, I find this really varies. Sometimes I find mead drinkable in as little as 4 months, sometimes a batch takes ages and ages to smooth out. I suspect the spices really do affect things pretty dramatically. I’m awfully impatient, so I tend to check early, but then I get distracted, and some of it ages forever.

    Thanks for throwing in what you’ve learned from your experience! More info is always great.

  8. Tartelette says:

    I am in love….this is just so ….hmmm….no word to give it justice…gorgeous…like dessert jewelry.
    Thanks for the instructions for the honey wine, there is a similar aperitif I used to share with my grandfather back home.

  9. Kristen says:

    What beautiful photos and the recipe is so tempting. Thansk for sharing this!

  10. elarael says:

    May I ask, where did you find 15 lbs of Olive Honey?

  11. nbm says:

    Shouldn’t there be a line showing the time to make this recipe: “4 to 6 months”?

  12. nbm says:

    No, seriously, it sounds ravishingly good but I know I am never going to make mead. Could one take purchased mead and simmer or steep it with cardamom, vanilla, and ginger for an approximation? Also, any thoughts on the sorts of apples that would work best — tart or sweet, soft or firm?

  13. Danielle says:

    Tartelette – Dessert jewelry, wow. I love that phrase and mental image. Thank you.

    Kristen – Thank you!

    elarael – I got it from the guy who sells honey at the Union Square greenmarket in NYC on Fridays. His honey is fantastic, and he’s a real funny, pleasant guy to chat with. I actually brought him a bottle of the mead once it was ready, to thank him for everything, and he gave me some extra honey in thanks after that.

    nbm – Okay, okay, that’s fair. You could probably do something like that – just add the spices in during the poaching, maybe. I’d lean towards using tarter, firm apples, because the poaching will soften and sweeten them and you do want them to hold their shape overall.

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