Wassail

Drinking Wassail is an age old winter custom. It is drunk at Christmas time, New Years, and the Twelfth Night. Wassail is a greeting, meaning "Be in good health!". It's roots all seem to point towards Great Britain, but the stories are many.

One custom in olde England is that the host proclaims, "Wassail," to which all reply, "Drink hail." Then the cup is past with a kiss to the next person and it continues until all have drank from it. This later became known as "the loving cup" with the introduction of Christianity. 

Wassail is associated with caroling too. There are stories of men carrying a large vessel (some reports say a bowl with twelve handles, some say wooden, and some used pitchers) from house to house. They would sing, get the vessel filled again and go on to the next house. It was a sign of good luck to have them visit. 

There is also a tradition of blessing the crops especially the apple trees. People gathered by the trees to celebrate and poured some wassail as a blessing into the roots of the trees.

Recipes:

Old recipes call for cakes, apples, and sugar to be placed in a bowl. Then it was filled with warm ale. The ale was drunk and the rest was eaten when the ale was gone. While this sounds less than appetizing, it may indicate where the fruit cake tradition came from and why a lot of recipes call for cider.

Wassail Bowl 

2 quarts apple cider, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/3 cups lemon juice, 6 cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves, 12 whole allspice, 1-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 fifths dry sherry 

Combine juices, sugar and spices in pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove spices and add sherry. Heat until just below boiling. Fill a punch bowl with boiling water. Let stand one minute, then empty. Fill punch bowl with spiced wine. Garnish wassail bowl with orange or lemon slices, studded with cloves. 

Ye Olde Wassail 

1 Quart Ale (or Beer if you must), Nutmeg, Ginger, Grated Lemon Peel, 3 eggs, 4 oz. Powdered Sugar, & 1 Quart Rum or Brandy 

Heat ale to almost boiling with spices. Beat eggs with sugar while ale is heating up. Combine both into a large pitcher. Put Rum or Brandy into another large pitcher & turn from one to another until mixed well. Then pour into a holiday wreathed wassail bowl (or punch bowl). Best served hot!