From the cool autumn nights of late September on through the holiday season, a hot cup of spiced apple cider can melt away any chill. That sweet, peppery bite warms the stomach and soothes the soul. Splashed with a little bourbon or brandy, it even adds a twinkle to the eye.

Warm a three quart pot over a medium heat. Toss in a pinch of whole cloves, a spoonful of black peppercorn, and two cinnamon sticks.

If you happen to have a few allspice berries (I never do), throw them in the pot, too.

After about a minute or two, your kitchen should start smelling like autumn. Pour in two quarts of apple cider. (Plain apple juice will do, if you must.) Raise the heat and bring the mix just to, but not past, the boiling point. Reduce the heat to low.

Stir in a small handful of brown sugar and zest from half an orange or lemon. Let the cider steep for about 30 minutes–if you can wait that long. Let cool and pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.