Pumpkin Pie Spiced Mulled Cider | for the love of the south

It was only a matter of time before I heard the story of the haunted Rocky Hill Castle. The story unfolds at the dinner table, where all the best stories are told. The antique silver candlesticks are laced with wax. The autumn breeze rustles the trees outside the dining room window. The spicy scent of mulled cider fills the air. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story. Now, I’m not one for ghost stories, but this one whet my appetite since it retells of a home that once belonged to my family in Alabama.

In the mid-1820’s, owner James E. Saunders built Rocky Hill Castle, which proudly sprawled across the rich red dirt and majestic cedars of Courtland, Alabama. Saunders was a man pricked with pride, which echoed in the grandeur of his plans for the Rocky Hill mansion. He hired an architect, who beautifully blended Greek Revival and Italian style architecture. Identical Doric front and rear porticos with fluted columns and a crowning cupola adorned the exterior of the castle. An elegant walnut spiral staircase greeted every guest as they entered the front door. Decorative motifs, double parlors, arched windows and Italian marble mantles graced the rooms of the majestic home. The house was glorious, so much so that even the Saunders’ wealth could not afford the cost. As the architect presented the bill, Saunders was astonished by the price. Saunders lost his temper with the architect as they both spat angry insults at one another. The empty-handed architect left Rocky Hill Castle, cursing at its “thieving master.”

Rocky Hill Castle | for the love of the south

Years later, the Saunders family gathered at their long dining room table for dinner when they heard loud noises coming from the cellar, which sounded like someone pounding on the foundation of the house with a hammer. As members of the family rushed to the cellar to investigate, the noises mysteriously subsided. Then, as soon as they made their way upstairs, the noises began again. The cryptic hammering continued as along as the Saunders family lived at Rocky Hill Castle. The family eventually became familiar with the sounds and gently jested of the angry architect’s ghost trying to destroy the mansion he created by striking it off its foundation.

Then, sometime after the Civil War, a more convincing spirit called, “The Lady in Blue,” took up residence at Rocky Hill. She made her first appearance to Mrs. Saunders as the family moved back to the castle. (The family sold and repurchased the property three times.) The excited Mrs. Saunders rushed up the stairs to see her beloved view from her bedroom window, but she was surprised to be greeted by a woman standing on the staircase dressed in a dusty blue gown. Just as Mrs. Saunders went to greet the lady, she vanished. Her family teased Mrs. Saunders whenever she retold of her encounter…that is, until Colonel Saunders was confronted with “The Lady in Blue” as she sat, smiling at him in his wine cellar as he searched for a bottle of blackberry wine. He locked the cellar, never returning to his wine again.

Pumpkins | for the love of the south

The final encounter came as Mrs. Saunders, who was annoyed instead of terrified by these unexplained occurrences, was getting dressed one morning. She impatiently shouted, “If there’s anybody there, speak up or forever hold your peace!” Immediately, she received a reply, “Madam, I’m right here!” Two hours later, the Saunders family moved out of Rocky Hill Castle forever.

The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner...
The Haunted Rocky Hill Castle: Take a glance at the upper right hand corner…

All that’s left is a patch of cedars where the castle once stood, scattered pieces of the mansion that are treasured in family homes, and this ghost story which keeps the spirit of the Rocky Hill Castle alive…

*This story has been retold and passed down from Thirteen Alabama Ghosts & Jeffrey.

P.S. The marble tabletop I use to take so many photos on is originally part of the Rocky Hill Castle! Most of the pieces I use in photographs are steeped in Southern history…

Cotton Field in Alabama | for the love of the south

P.P.S. {Because I love y’all, I am giving away a set of wooden utensils including an ebony spreader, maple scraper, and a set of 4 flat sauté tools in bloodwood, maple and ebony from Early Wood to stir and sauté all of your lovely autumn dishes. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below letting me know your favorite autumn dish between now and midnight, October 25th. The winner will be chosen randomly and will be contacted via email on October 26th. Limit 1 comment per person, pretty please! Good luck and happy fall, y’all!}

Pumpkin Pie Spice Mulled Cider

Serves 8

Note: This cider has the same blend of spices found in a traditional pumpkin pie!

You can prepare this cider ahead of time and stash it in the fridge after discarding the spices! Once you are ready to serve the cider, just bring it to room temperature and heat through on the stovetop. Also, to make this a boozy treat, just add a shot of your favorite dark liquor to each glass of mulled cider, and crown the cider with a homemade marshmallow

2 liters pure pressed apple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

Pinch ground ginger

¼ whole nutmeg, finely grated

6 allspice berries

6 whole cloves

4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Pour the apple juice into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes until the juice is warm. Add the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, ginger, nutmeg, allspice berries, cloves and sugar. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. The cider should have a lovely, spicy flavor with a balance of sweetness, but it should not overly sweet. Allow the cider to continue to steep and simmer until it reaches your desired spiciness. Take off the heat and strain, discarding the spices. Serve with a homemade marshmallow!





Ooh that cider sounds delicious! My favorite autumn dish is basically anything involving butternut squash – I’m always craving it this time of year!

Caramel apples, bright-bellied, tart and crisp, make the shorter fall days less ominous. A close second is Turkey pot pie, the closer to organic the better. (The carrots have to be soft, or the pleasure is interrupted.) Enjoyed the ghost stories!

i loved reading your article! i’ll try your mulled cider recipe as soon as possible, it looks so delicious! also thanks for the giveaway: my favorite autumn dish is a spicy butternut squash, apple and cider soup!

My favorite autumn dish is butternut squash soup. I love reading your articles. They take me back to growing up in the South.

My favorite fall dish is a white wine apple cinnamon coffee cake! Make an apple cinnamon sauce with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and diced apples, add a splash of white wine with just enough time left to cook the alcohol off and let it all simmer down to the consistency of a glaze. When that’s done (and your house smells SO delicious!), serve it on top of a classic crumble coffee cake . I use a variation of my grandmother’s coffee cake recipe. YUM! I can make the coffee cake ahead and then do the apple cinnamon sauce just before guests come to make the house smell extra lovely.

I am loving right now a dish that has roasted butternut squash, poblano peppers w/ a rojo sauce sprinkled w/ pine nuts. It warms my belly & soul 🙂

Roasted winter squash with pecans and maple syrup. And I loved Kathryn Tucker Windham’s radio commentaries.

I’m always delighted to receive your posts in my inbox. Every year, as soon as I can get my hands on a Cinderella pumpkin, I make African peanut stew. I spend the whole day breaking down the pumpkin, making stock, and baking bread. It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

Made some homebrew myself…apple cider overcooked in a crock pot! It has a slight alcohol taste to it, but you can certainly still taste all the spices and apples! 🙂

My favorite autumn dish is classic potato soup with bacon and cheddar cheese. Thank you so much for sharing such a fun ghost story and giveaway.

My favorite fall dish is “Cornbread dressing” It is one of my fall staples! I absolutely love it! The spices, flavors and combinations (always one traditional and one non-traditional). I love it mainly because it reminds me of large family dinners with my grandparents.

My fav autumn dish is sweet potatoe casserole. Sweet potatoes with a crumbly oats and brown sugar topping with or without pecans.

It’s really difficult to choose a favorite autumn dish because there are so many amazing choices! Summer is the best time of year, but autumn definitely has the best food. Right now, chili is top of mind for me. There’s something about the smell of a good chili simmering on the stove, crisp fall air outside, football on the TV… it warms the soul!

My favorite autumn dish is closely related to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I think there is nothing better than a steaming bowl of cornbread dressing topped with a cool dollop of cranberry chutney. It’s comforting and tastes like my childhood.

When it starts to get chilly in New York I love making big pots of root veggie soup: mixed root vegetables flavored with Italian sausage and chicken broth, lots of kale, and finished with Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Makes heading into a north-eastern winter so much easier!

Dear Amber, I’m so glad I found your blog. My husband’s grandmother, and one of my most favorite ladies, is a southern woman (Enterprise, Alabama). She relocated to the northeast when she married a Yankee serviceman. I have loved and cherished all her stories, especially the one about her being offered a cup of tea for the first time up north and how she was confused when the tea arrived hot and unsweetened and…Good Lord, with milk! Thank you for your latest post. Halloween being only a week out I was in the mood for a good ghost story. This one gave me chills and I see the Lady in Blue, her face, in the upper right. And thank you for the cider recipe. Some, I’ve found are so sweet, that a small cup is all I can take for the year.

I’m so happy you stumbled upon my site! Thank you so much for sharing about your family, especially the part about your grandmother drinking her first cup of tea up north! I loved it! I hope you have a lovely autumn season.

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