“Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown…” Ok, I’ll stop. In case you’re wondering, those are the words from the traditional English Gloucestershire Wassail song. Come on, indulge me, you’ve got a minute to explore that link and the background on wassail!
Apparently, my high school years of performing in a Madrigal dinner had quite an effect, and now those around me must also endure it. If you don’t feel like delving in, here’s the gist of it: today’s definition of a madrigal dinner is a multi-course, Medieval-style meal served by costumed performers singing traditional (old English) Christmas carols. (“The boar’s head, in hand bear I…” Ok, sorry – I’ll really stop this time.)
So, why does this matter on foodie Friday? Because wassail (literally “waes hael” or “be you healthy”) is a foodie tradition you should most definitely explore! Before we go further, though, I need to offer my standard disclaimer from The Food Adventuress: I’m quite horrible at precisely following directions and tend to just do whatever I want in the kitchen and wait to see how it turns out. So, if you’d like a real recipe for wassail, you’d best go elsewhere. Just do a quick search on the Interweb and you’re sure to turn up lots of lovely options. Now, don’t tell my Mom, but here’s what I do:
- Grab crock pot a little too late in the day for 6 p.m. wassail readiness.
- Have a glass of wine or your relaxing beverage of choice.
- Recollect that you were going to make wassail and get back to it.
- Fill said crock pot about 2/3 full of apple cider.
- Top it off with generous pours* of orange juice (I like pulpey for this!) and pineapple juice.
- Add a good amount** of lemon juice and honey.
- Start adding spices to your taste. I choose cinnamon (lots!***), ground cloves, freshly grated nutmeg and sometimes ginger and allspice depending on my mood/desire to exert myself.
- Decorate your wassail. I typically add a cloved orange (sliced or not, per your own desire to exert yourself) and some apple slices from near the core along with a cinnamon stick or two.
- Let simmer for several hours and return to your aforementioned beverage.
- Serve to standing ovation (or at least a few compliments).
* In this case, generous pours mean probably a cup or two each, but let’s not get too precise.
** Under duress, I would probably estimate that a good amount means half a cup?
*** I’m pretty sure my favorite measurement is “to taste.” That’s what you do here – you won’t mess up!
A couple of notes that will increase your cool factor: first, everybody has a scratchy throat around the holidays. Wassail is the guaranteed fix-it and soother – offer it to everyone who enters your home. Of course, your home smells completely fabulous because you made wassail! Also, I recommend not adding alcohol. Shocking, I know. Wassail is enjoyable by all… the kids and those who abstain should enjoy it as much as everyone else, and anyone who wishes to doctor (ahem) their drink may do so with ease once in the mug.
Finally (insider tip!) just store the wassail outside between servings, assuming it is even mildly chilly at night in your neck of the woods of Arkansas (and beyond). Just slowly warm it up starting a little earlier on subsequent serving days. The wassail gets a little thicker as the spices mull, so just add some more of the juices prior to simmering and the original batch should get you through several servings.
Again, this is all highly unscientific but fairly popular Chez Stephens, and it’s standard fare throughout the month of December from tree-decorating through New Year’s. I hope you’ll try it, and maybe add a few of the old English carols to spice up your holiday tunes as well! Give some background to your family and your kids may be the smartest ones on the block. Mine is definitely the one who knows about wassail, which either makes her incredibly cool or highly nerdy. I’m ok with both.
Beth is the marketing maven and one of the four founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers, but her real job is as executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center – a nonprofit field science, environmental education, camp and conference facility in northwest Arkansas. She blogs over at The Little Magpie and The Food Adventuress and finds herself eating far more of her mother’s rum cake around the holidays than she would care to admit.
Please note: all images and links are public domain from the web, and used only to illustrate topics for your personal use.