Wednesday, December 12, 2007

...And to You, Your Wassail Too

Known in America almost exclusively as an undefined term in a Christmas carol, wassail is in fact a real "thing," a thing in fact, that will get you toasty.

There are some variations within wassail, but they unite on the origin of the term, an Old English toast meaning, "be well." A similar phrase exists in Old Norse.

Wassail, associated with Christmas and New Years as far back as the 1400s, is a punch of sorts, served hot, and to be shared. The wassail would be cooked, served in a huge bowl, someone would pass it to you shouting "waes hael," and you would respond "drinc hael" (drink and be healthy). This is definitely a tradition I could get behind.

Wassail is closely associated with wassailing, where you cook up a batch, get toasty, and go door-to-door sharing the wassail, and singing carols until the occupants give you a drink or some money to go away. Drinking copious amounts of wassail is essential in this practice not for tradition's sake, but rather because it helps loosen up the pipes for belting carols, and also because it makes you forget how damn cold it is walking outside in December.

While most modern variations are some concoction of mulled cider, wassail of yore was more likely made with beer. I don't know about you, but making up a batch of holiday punch, getting buzzed and spreading joy sounds like a good time to me, so allow me to help you should you choose to spread the love and joy.

Epicurious features this recipe for wassail:

10 small apples
10 teaspoons brown sugar
2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cloves
3 allspice berries
1 inch stick cinnamon
2 cups superfine sugar
1/2 cup water
6 eggs, separated
1 cup brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.
Bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Combine the sherry or Madeira, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat without letting the mixture come to a boil. Leave on very low heat. Beat the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored. Beat the whites until stiff and fold them into the yolks. Strain the wine mixture and add gradually to the eggs, stirring constantly. Add the brandy. Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples on top and serve in 8-ounce mugs.

But folks, let's be real with ourselves, this isn't "Sherry on the Brain" (thank god); let's save the sherry wassail for New Englanders. Allow me to suggest this beer based, and more traditional variation of wassail to aid you on your caroling quest:

2 Quarts Lager
5 oz Simple Syrup
3 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Freshly Grated Ginger (or ground)
1 Quart Dark Rum (I personally like Meyers. Should you have a death wish try Gosling's Black Seal 151)
Apple & Lemon Slices for Garnish

Combine beer, syrup, lemon juice, nutmeg, and ginger. Heat until hot at medium-high, but don't boil. Cook 8-10 minutes (no boiling!). Add rum and stir it up. Go wassailing.

Love and Joy come to you; please wassail in moderation.

Digg this

1 comment:

kyle said...

Wow. Both of those recipes sound superb.