January 5th marks the 12th day of Christmas, the eve of the Epiphany, and a time to prepare a Wassail and partake in the ancient traditions associated with that time. The Wassail is a mulled apple cider drink seasoned with spices and sometimes spiked with brandy or sherry. It is often made with roasted apples that pop in the hot drink producing a woolly topping that is known lamb’s wool. The Wassail, according to Old Norse, means ‘ves heill’, to be in good health. It dates to the 1300s and some argue even to Roman times. The night of wassailing is profiled in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night!
According to British Food History, the Wassail was made in a large wooden bowl shared by those who participated in Wassailing which meant gathering in the apple orchards to thank the trees for their gifts. People would sing and dance around the trees, spear the branches with Wassail-soaked bread and bang pots and pans to scare away any evil spirits that might impede the apple production for the following year. The clanging of pots and pans is why, in the famous song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, there are 12 drummers drumming on the 12th day of Christmas. There are old practices of Wassailing, but many people continue those traditions in some form often going door to door, singing, and sharing the Wassail. Whether you do or don’t celebrate the 12th night, the Wassail is a wonderful warm drink for winter very much akin to mulled wine or ale.
Mulling Spice Mix
The Wassail There are many recipes for Wassail which always begin with apple cider. It is really a matter of taste and preference as to what spices you add or whether you choose to add alcohol. It is possible to substitute wine or ale for the apple cider as an alternate mulled drink. Dried citrus peel is often added which is why I never waste citrus peel. The peels can be dried in the over or dehydrator, left whole or chopped finely as additions to drinks including cocktails.
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 star anise or 3 allspice berries
- 2 cardamon pods (optional)
- Pinch of cloves
- 1/3 cup dried orange and lemon peel
Place spices (without peel) in a double layer square of cheese cloth and tie securely.
The fruit peel can be added directly to the pot.
Simmer in 1 gallon apple cider.
The longer the simmer, the stronger the spice taste.
If using red wine, a small amount of honey is often added.
If you are Wassailing, having an outdoor bonfire, or sitting around a fire during winter, the mulled drink fills the house with a glorious aroma and provides a comforting drink for a long winter’s night. Happy New Year!