Tag Archives: Wassail

The Christmas Spirits

I found myself pawing through the cookbook section of the downtown Barnes and Noble. I had been looking for recipes for the Holiday season and what better way to become inspired than to see what Martha, Craig and others have done previously.

As I perused through a fourth book of Holiday recipes, a small voice started speaking to me.

“There’s something wrong here. Look closer at the recipes.”

I shook my head and blinked. I refocused my eyes and started reading the recipes with more intensity.

Wassail, Egg Nog, Plum Pudding, Fruitcake; all of these recipes flew by my eyes. Something was indeed wrong. But what?

I looked at the ingredient lists, and the reality became clear — All of the recipes that had traditionally contained some measure of brandy, rum or ale now sat before me, neutered. Even a recipe for glühwein, which has the German word for wine in its name, told us to recreate the recipe with mulled tea sans wine.

How did this happen? Have some of us become so frightened of alcohol that we’ve removed it as an option in cooking? Or is it simple ignorance of how these recipes originated?

I can respect the fact that some people don’t like the taste of alcohol. But for me, the idea of egg nog without rum is as silly as tofurkey — A cheap recreation of a dish for someone who doesn’t like what the traditional recipe represents.

Me? I like spirits. I believe them to be some of the most complicated tastes in the world. They add a uniqueness to many recipes that are impossible to recreate. To remove them from a recipe is akin to removing garlic or curry from a recipe.

I don’t think there’s a concerted effort here, but I do find the lack of Christmas recipes without spirits disheartening. Trust me when I say that those of you drinking wassail made only from apple juice, or having a fruitcake that hasn’t been drowned in brandy are missing out on something exquisite.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Christmas recipes, spirits



Being an American, I was aware of wassail, but had never tasted the brew. Had I been British, I probably would have been more aware what the heck wassail actually was.

For the record, wassail is a greeting that rich folks gave other rich folks around the holidays.It comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase waes hael, a term often used as a toast meaning, be hale or good health.

People would walk around their community, knocking on other people’s doors, and sing “Waes Hael!”. The people answering the door, feeling a tad lonely, and a little concerned at the mental health of these door to door hailers. So they offered them heated alcohol.

The drink could really consist of nearly anything, as long as it had ale or sherry has a base, apples or cider and mulled spices. Some people recommend mixing the wassail with eggs, but these folks should be patted on the head, sent to the store to pick up some fresh eggs, and then mocked while absent.

Incidentally, after you pour yourself a mug, remove the wassail from heat, or else you’ll end up forgetting about it and then having a nice sauce pan full of wassail syrup.

Not that I’m speaking from first hand experience *cough, cough*.

The taste of this drink is quite good. Deep, rich and spicy. It’s no wonder why this drink was handed out to those who went out caroling.

  • 2 pints and 1/4 cup brown ale (winter ale and scottish ale will also suffice)
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cloves
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 4 apples
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup port
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardomon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large sauce pan, pour in 2 pints of ale. Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon zest and cloves and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Take an apple, and score it with a knife around the circumfrance of the apple. Place in a baking dish. Repeat this step for all of the apples. Cover with one cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of ale, and all of the port. Cover baking dish and place in oven, cooking for 30 minutes.

While apples are baking, place remaining sugar and spices into the sauce pan, ensuring it’s well mixed.

When apples are done baking, place entire contents of baking dish into sauce pan. Allow to cook over a low heat for anothe 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot, one-two ladles into your favorite mug.

Serves 6-8

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, wassail, beverages, holiday drinks, ale