A-Wassailing We Will Go

Dec 15, 2010

To quote the old Saxon toast, 'Wass hael' to you and yours. Enjoy this ancient English recipe.

Given the ingredient list, the multistep process and the highly combustible nature of figgy pudding, I abandoned all hope of actually re-creating a true Christmas dish worthy of Dickens. Instead, I concentrated my efforts on figgy's partner in Christmas debauchery, wassailing, and of course the drink itself, the wassail.

Basically, a wassail is a hot alcoholic punch spiced with combinations of apples, oranges, lemons, cloves and cinnamon. It is a concotion that will fill your home with a lovely aroma, warm you through and through and, when consumed in proper amounts, bring you good cheer. 

According to lore, wassailing, an ancient English custom, is a cross between trick-or-treating and caroling. Instead of ringing the doorbell and yelling, "Trick or treat!," participants sing wassail songs that beg for treats.

These tunes originate from the Old Norse "ves heill" ("be well") and the later Saxon expression "wass hael" ("be well" or "be whole") and toast good health and cheer. In singing wassail songs, which are essentially thinly veiled terrorist demands for alcohol, participants hope for the equivalent of a hot toddy.

Like many holiday recipes, this one has many permutations. I have provided you with two below—one for those who like wine drinks and the other for those who prefer harder liquor.

1. Colonial Wassail from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook


* 1 cup sugar
* 4 cinnamon sticks
* 3 lemon slices
* 1/2 cup water
* 2 cups pineapple juice
* 2 cups orange juice
* 6 cups dry red wine
* ½ cup lemon juice
* 1 cup dry sherry
* 2 lemons, sliced, for garnish


1. Boil the sugar, cinnamon sticks and lemon slices in a ½ cup of water for five minutes and strain. Discard the cinnamon sticks and lemon slices.
2. In a separate pot, combine the remaining ingredients and heat them, but do not boil.
3. Add the sugar syrup, garnish with the lemon slices, and serve hot.

2. Hard Wassail


* 1 gallon apple cider
* 3 small oranges
* 1 tablespoon whole cloves
* 6 - 10 cinnamon sticks
* 1/2 cup vodka and 1/2 cup brandy (or 1 cup rum and 1/4 cup light-brown sugar)


1. Stud the oranges with the whole cloves.
2. Mix all the ingredients (except the alcohol) in a large pot and simmer until fragrant, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the alcohol and heat again.
4. Strain and pour into a punch bowl and float the oranges.
5. Serve hot, garnished with a cinnamon stick.

About this column:
For some, the prospect of preparing a meal strikes fear into their hearts. Follow this local mom's straightforward recipes, and dawning the toque is in your midst.



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