It is once again hot boozy drink season and Wassail is one of my favorites hot mulled punches of the Yule Season. Often drunk from a wassailing bowl, the earliest versions of Wassail were made from warmed mead, ale or hard cider. One of my favorite versions of this punch hails from the time of Shakespeare and is aptly named Lambswool, because roasted crab apples were dropped into the bubbling cider where they heated and burst open to create a delightfully foamy drink that resembled very fuzzy lamb. Later, the drink evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and then topped with slices of toast. It was then drunk from a large communal bowl which is why you see so many antique wassail bowls with handles.
Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix, and some recipes also call for beaten eggs to be tempered into the drink. I always add butter because I like the softness of flavor it adds.
The traditional Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on the old Twelfth Night (17 January) as a ritual to ask the good spirits for an abundant apple harvest. The villagers would form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. I love to drink Wassail all season long, but Solstice eve is generally when I Waes Hael my apple trees. I use toasted pieces of cinnamon raisin bread for a bit ofextra fine magic!
Before you begin...This wonderful version of the Gloucestershire Wassail will put you in just the right mood!
You will need:
A large pot
1 gallon of fresh apple cider
1 large bottle of red wine, beer, sherry or several cups of brandy
Small lady apples that you have studded with cloves
A sliced orange
A muslin bag or large tea ball filled with the spices of your choice- I like Rosemary, Coriander, Cloves, star anise, allspice berries and orange peel.
½ a stick of salted butter
1 cup of maple syrup or brown sugar
Several cinnamon sticks
The rest is easy. Heat the cider and put in the apples, butter, sugar and spices. Let it simmer for about 45 minutes. Then add the wine, sherry or brandy. Let it simmer for another 20 minutes and serve! If you have grandchildren they will love watching the apples burst! It makes the punch sort a fuzzy gray color but it's absolutely delicious and such a fun part of history!
Pictures from Williamsburg Yorktown Daily and The Museum of Wales