Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Lore--Day 7

United Kingdom Christmas stamp 


Wassail is an ancient beverage and toast coming from the Saxons in England when the lords and ladies would cry out "waes hael" meaning "be of good health."  Originally, wassail was made from  mulled ale, curdled cream, apples, nuts, eggs, and spices.   (You can find numerous recipes, but I prefer the one listed below below because it does not have eggs as one of the ingredients.)

There are different wassailing ceremonies, but they can basically be grouped into three categories:  wassailing in the orchard, wassailing in the hall, and wassailing home to home

Wassailing in the orchard
This originated as a pagan agricultural festival to increase the yield of apples.  During the Christmas season, people would visit trees in various orchards and either sprinkle the wassail mixture on the tree or break a bottle of it against the trunk.  Some farmers began taking a wassail bowl to the barn to toast the health of their farm animals.

Wassailing in the hall
A bowl of wassail was carried into the room with great ceremony, a traditional wassailing carol was sung, and finally, the hot beverage was served.

Wassailing home to home
A group of carolers would go house to house singing.  At each stop, they would be treated to a cup of wassail.  There is some historical evidence that the carolers brought the wassail with them.  Other sources indicate that each home was expected to serve wassail.  In any case, I can imagine that the quality of the singing might have deteriorated as the night went on!

Wassail Recipe
2 pints brown ale (I use Newcastle)
1/2 pint dry sherry or dry white wine
3 oz. soft brown sugar
3-4 small or medium apples
1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180F.  Wash the apples and cut the skin around the middle of each.  Place the apples, sugar and 4 tablespoons of the brown ale into an ovenproof bowl and bake for 25-30 minutes until the apples are tender.  Finely peel the lemon, removing only the outer waxy layer.  Remove the apples and add the remaining ale, sherry or wine, lemon peel, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Simmer gently over a low flame for 5 minutes.  Add the apples and serve immediately.


  1. Well how interesting-I always wondered about the name-now I know!

    (I'm loving all the folklore)

  2. Hi Tipper! I'm glad that you are enjoying the posts. I am having great fun writing them.

  3. "Originally, wassail was made from mulled ale, curdled cream, apples, nuts, eggs, and spices."

    God, that sounds gross. :D


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