Today is a special day on here because I am "giving away" a family recipe. Gasp! I know, tsk tsk, Keeley Kraft! But you know what? You guys deserve it!! You've been good all year, haven't you? ;) A few days ago I overheard a few friends talking about wassail and quickly inserted myself into the conversation as this is something I. KNOW. ABOUT.
My grandmamma used to make wassail around the holidays and my mama carries on the tradition every year and serves it at her annual holiday party. And every year whenever I'm passing by the wassail pot, I always hear someone ask: "Now, what exactly is wassail?" Which invariably incites someone else chiming in with the lyrics:
"Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too"
... Which garners feigned recognition while a confused expression still remains on the face of the questioner. So today, I'm here to set the record straight!
Wassail refers to both the drink of wassail and the salute "Waes Hail" meaning "be you healthy" in Old English. The drinking of wassail is a fundamental part of the act of wassailing, which is an ancient southern English drinking ritual performed as a way to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
This "ritual" is performed through a ceremony that involved singing and drinking to the health of the trees in hopes that this might make them thrive better. More specifically, that through wassailing, the cider apple trees will be awakened and coincidentally, the evil spirits will be scared away thus ensuring a good harvest the following autumn.
During the ceremony, it is traditional for a wassail King and Queen to lead the processional song/tune (which is either played with instruments and/or sung) from one orchard to the next. In each orchard, the wassail Queen is lifted into the boughs of the tree where she places toast soaked in wassail from the "clayen cup" as a gift to the tree spirits (and to show the fruits created the previous year). (Um, fun! Can I be the wassail Queen??)
The drink of wassail boils down to a hot mulled punch (no pun intended :). Historically, the drink was a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and topped with slices of toast. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added and apples or oranges are often added to the mix as well.
My G-ma's recipe isn't the traditional recipe to a T (hint: we add rum), but I would argue it's the best one. So without further ado, I present you with the b̶e̶s̶t̶ recipe for Wassail to help you ring in the Yuletide spirit:
1 1/2 QUARTS OF CRANBERRY JUICE
1 GALLON OF APPLE CIDER
(4) 6 OZ CANS OF FROZEN ORANGE JUICE
8 CUPS OF WATER
5 TABLESPOONS OF SUGAR
1 TEASPOON OF ALLSPICE
AND A PINCH OF CINNAMON
Add all ingredients to a large pot and heat on the stove. After heating AND while it's still on the stove, add rum if desired.
Slice oranges and stud them with cloves so they float on top of the wassail.
Caution: drink "spiked" wassail with caution as the taste of the alcohol can be strongly disguised!
So, there you have it! Sometimes the best recipes come with the simplest of instructions ;).
Now, bring on the holidays!