*This post marks Day 11 of Miss Ginsu’s 2008 Advent Calendar.
When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my friends organized annual holiday caroling. It was probably my favorite thing about the whole holiday season.
We spent far more time “practicing” than caroling (you can accurately insert “goofing around” for the quoted material above), but it was good fun for all. We stuck to the classics, and Here We Go a-Wassailing was always on the list. (It’s SO much easier to sing than O Holy Night …)
Here we come a-wassailing Among the leaves so green, Here we come a-wandering So fair to be seen. Love and joy come to you, And to you your wassail, too, And God bless you, and send you A Happy New Year, And God send you a Happy New Year. We are not daily beggars That beg from door to door, But we are neighbors' children Whom you have seen before Love and joy come to you, And to you your wassail, too, And God bless you, and send you A Happy New Year, And God send you a Happy New Year.
Had we known at the time that wassailing really referred to the same sort of drunken revelry in which we were partaking, it might have made that ancient song all the more charming and relevant.
Indeed, the reason our ancestors sang with love and joy about wassailing was really all about the warmth of companionship… and the love of the drink.
The cider those folks were sipping back then was the hard stuff. (You’ll find some nice wassailing history here.)
The trusty wikipedia entry will tell you that for a traditional wassail pot: “Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops.”
My recipe appears below and yes, I skip the toast. But as with many traditional recipes, folks back then pretty much used what they had on hand, and so, dear reader, can you!
Just make sure that apples make some kind of an appearance (as cider or cooked as fruit). Apples are crucial, but you can also use an ale, wine or sherry as the base along with your favorite mulling spices. For a virgin wassail, skip the booze and do it up more like a spicy mulled apple cider.
Holiday Wassail Pot (Serves 6-8)
4 apples, peeled and cored
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 bottle dry sherry or dry Madeira
3 cinnamon sticks
3-4 allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Zest from 1/2 lemon
1 cup Calvados or brandy
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the apples in a baking dish and stuff each with a tablespoon of brown sugar. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan to prevent burning (about 1/4 inch), and bake for 30 minutes.
- Pour the sherry or Madiera in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, cloves, cardamom, ginger, brown sugar and lemon zest. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat.
- When apples are done baking, add the apples and pan liquid to the wassail pot. Add the Calvados/brandy and heat for another 20 minutes.
- Strain out the spice and ladle into mugs to serve.
As you can see, there’s enough alcohol in this recipe to ensure a very merry caroling party indeed! I beg you to wassail responsibly, and don’t let your soprano pass out in a snow drift.