I wish you good health! Be whole. Let us toast this merry night! Each of these phrases are related to Wassail and wassailing. Some of you might be familiar with the rituals of wassail. Though I suspect many of you barely know the song and have no idea what it means. Might any of you remember the claymation special debating between waffling and wassailing?
It’s too early in the season for wassailing, but I want to give you time to prepare your goods and invite your friends. Traditionally we wassail during Christmastide: the twelve days begin on the 25th. It’s a festive time with tree trimming parties, caroling, a few pagan rituals, and the important Twelfth Night. Truly old school wassailing occurs on or about Twelfth Night when you gather at the orchard and offer samples of your hard apple beverage to encourage a good year and ample future harvest.
Much more well known is the practice of caroling and drinking wassail. Carolers wander the neighborhoods singing for food, beverage, or money. Wassail was requested to help people stay warm or perhaps forget just how cold they were. A good caroling party should include a few instruments.
How can we celebrate since the calendars and traditions have gotten so mixed up over the centuries? Make your own traditions. Have your friends over for a party during the twelve days of Christmas. Brew some wassail, sing carols, and play ridiculous parlor games. Get silly. Pass the orange from chin to chin. Play charades, simile, or pictionary. Be modern and a bit naughty and play Cards Against Humanity or be nice and play Apples to Apples.
What do you need? A crockpot or slow cooker. A sweet red wine and a honey ale are good places to start. Madeira and Sherry (not that cooking stuff) are popular choices. Honey mead was the old standard, but ale works nicely. Stay away from seasonal spiced or pumpkin ales. If you have a honey ale handy, use it (easier to find during the summer) otherwise use an ale you enjoy. You need small apples, whole spices like cloves, allspice, and cinnamon and a spice bag or cheesecloth & twine. You should have water and brown sugar on hand. This recipe does not include eggs. Eggs add a great richness to wassail and I encourage you to give it a try. This recipe is halved to fit in my 5 qt crockpot. Double it for a jumbo crockpot or Dutch oven.
36 oz Ale (3 bottles)
375 ml Madeira (1/2 bottle)
3-4 small apples, cored
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c water
5 allspice berries
1 tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground nutmeg
1 c apple cider or juice (optional)
1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
Place cored apples in bottom of crockpot. Fill each apple with brown sugar. Dump any remaining sugar in pot. Pour water into crockpot. Set to low and cover for at least two hours. Put cloves, allspice, and cinnamon (if using) in a spice bag or cheesecloth. Add ale, wine, apple cider, spice bag, ginger, and nutmeg to the slow cooker. Cover and let the flavors meld a minimum of 30 minutes. Ladle into mugs and enjoy.
This wassail is not for the faint of heart. It is strong. The ale can overpower your drink so choose wisely.