The Celluloid Pantry: Mulled Wine and It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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So this angel walks into a bar'.

In Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life (1946), the angel is the dim, but well-meaning Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers, right), and the bar is Nick's, a place full of hard-drinking, hard-bitten cynics.

George Bailey (James Stewart, left), reeling from a tough day, quickly orders a double bourbon, but his 293-year-old Mark Twain-reading guardian angel takes some time making up his mind:

"I was just thinking of a flaming rum punch. No, it's not cold enough for that. Not nearly cold enough . . . Wait a minute . . . wait a minute . . . I got it. Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!"

The proprietor Nick gets surly: "Hey, look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast. And we don't need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere. Is that clear? Or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?"

"Don't they believe in angels?" Clarence asks.

Here's a recipe adapted from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (first published 1861), the way Clarence would have liked it:

Mulled Wine
To every 600ml (1 pint) of Wine allow:
235ml (8 fl oz) Water
Sugar, to taste
Spice (Cloves, Grated Nutmeg and Cinnamon or Mace), to taste

In making this, it is very difficult to give the exact proportions of ingredients like sugar and spice, as what quantity might suit one person would be to another quite distasteful. Boil the spice in the water until the flavour is extracted. Add the wine and sugar and bring to boiling point, then serve with strips of crisp dry toast or with biscuits. The spices usually used for mulled wine are cloves, grated nutmeg and cinnamon or mace. Any kind of wine may be mulled, but port and claret are those usually selected for the purpose and the latter requires a very large proportion of sugar. The vessel that the wine is boiled in must be delicately clean and should be kept exclusively for the purpose.
Small tin warmers may be purchased for a trifle, which are more suitable than saucepans, as, if the latter are not scrupulously clean, they will spoil the wine, by imparting to it a very disagreeable flavour. These warmers should be used for no other purposes.

Originally posted December 12, 2006

- Nora

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