If the January blues have started to set in now that the Christmas and New Year’s festivities are over and done with, then a quick wassail might be just what you need to perk you up. So, grab a bowl full of mead, a group of friends and head for your nearest orchard on Twelfth Night.
Wassail is a hearty spiced drink made from ale or cider, traditionally served hot in a huge bowl designed for sharing. Its name derives from the Middle English greeting ‘was hael’, meaning ‘good health to you’. Similar greetings exist in Old English and Norse, so it is a custom, like so many, that has its roots firmly in pagan culture.
The concoction was popularly served on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night and, over the years, the recipe developed with more and more ingredients being added. At one stage, bits of toasted bread were floated on the top of the wassail bowl, which is how the origin of our saying ‘to make a toast’ came about.
Although examples of elaborate wassailing bowls can be found throughout the UK (there is a silver bowl in the possession of Jesus College, Oxford, which can hold 10 gallons of booze), it became a predominantly rural ceremony. Farmers and villagers wassailed on twelfth night to ensure a bountiful harvest in the coming year.
The tradition was particularly popular amongst the fruit-growing regions of England including Somerset, Devon and Herefordshire. People would make their way from orchard to orchard with their wassailing bowls, singing songs and performing all sorts of rituals to bless each of the trees.
The roots of the trees were given a drink from the wassail bowl and pieces of cider-soaked bread left in the branches as an offering to the gods. Although most wassailing is held on 5th January, some wassailers still prefer celebrating on the 17th January or ‘old twelvey’ as it’s known – the original date for twelfth night before the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1752.
If you’d like to go wassailing in Hereford, pay a visit to the Herefordshire Wassail Facebook page. If you fancy giving it a go at home, then here’s a recipe for you to try.
Happy New Year from everyone at Certainly Wood.
A Wassail Recipe
- 4 pints of dry dider
- 1/2oz ginger root
- 6 cloves
- A pinch of mace
- 1/2 small nutmeg, grated, or 1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 level teaspoon ground coriander seeds
- 1/2 level teaspoon of ground cardamom or 4 seeds
- 8oz soft brown sugar
- 6oz demerara sugar
- 2 lemons
- 1/2pt water
- 2 egg yolks
- 6 small cooking apples
Bruise the ginger with a hammer, then put it into a large pan with the cloves, nutmeg, mace, coriander, cardamom and sugar.
Finely grate the rinds of the lemons and add this to the spices with the water. Bring these ingredients to the boil and simmer for five minutes.
Squeeze the lemons, add the juice to the spices together with the cider, and heat the mixture slowly. Put the egg yolks into a bowl and gradually beat in half a pint of the hot, but not boiling, liquid-this should make a good froth.
When the rest of the mixture is almost boiling, whisk it up in a basin.
Meanwhile, core the apples and put them in a roasting tin, filling each of the centres with demerara sugar and then bake them in a moderately hot oven at about 190C / 375F for approximately twenty minutes. Put them into the Wassail.
Drink and enjoy!!!
Recipe courtesy of whychristmas.com