You probably remember the line from the old song, “Here we come a-wassailing…” But do you know what a wassail is?
You’ve probably guessed, correctly, that wassailing is a lot like Christmas-caroling. The House-Visiting wassail, very much similar to caroling, is the practice of people going door-to-door singing Christmas carols. [There was also an “orchard visiting” form of wassail, where folks sang to trees to encourage a plentiful fruit harvest, which we think is pretty cool.]
The word wassail comes from an Anglo-Saxon toast, toast wæs þu hæl, “be thou hale” [or “be in good health”]. Wassailing dates back to the middle ages, when feudal lords would bestow charitable gifts [food and drink – i.e., figgy pudding and wassail] in exchange for their peasants’ blessing and goodwill:
“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year”
When we think of wassailing today, it conjures up old-timey visions of carolers in bonnets and stovepipe hats, spreading musical cheer to kindly old aristocrats in manor houses. But, in a discovery that gives us a secret thrill, we discovered that, at times, wassailing was associated with rowdy bands of young men who would enter the homes of wealthy neighbours and demand free food and drink. If the householder refused, he was usually cursed by the lads, and occasionally his house was vandalized. [“Here’s what you can do with yer figgy pudding! Oi.“]
If you want to make your own wassail, if only to fend off roving bands of singing Dickensian thugs, here’s a link to our recipe. Wassail is a mix of baked apples, hot spiced wine and brandy, and, curiously, eggs. Who knew? Well, now *you* do!
Not feeling especially wassail-ly this year? Here are some other grown-up beverages that will liven your senses and warm your tummy:
- Egg Nog. You can doll up storebought nog, if you like, with a shot of whisky and a sprinkle of nutmeg. But you may want, sometime, to try the real thing, made with eggs, milk, cream, nutmeg, and vanilla, bourbon, *and* brandy. Here’s our recipe for egg nog.
- Irish Coffee. While we’re at it, talking about whisky, we should mention Irish Coffee. Add 1 jigger Irish Whisky in a coffee cup [a clear glass Irish Coffee mug is pretty to behold], in which you dissolve 1 tsp. sugar. Fill cup to within 1″ of rim with hot coffee. Top with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, sweetened with our honey powder. Sip the coffee through the cloud of whipped cream. Yum.
- Pharisäer. This is one of AllSpiceGuy’s favorites, mostly because it’s German and very good. Created by farmers in northern Germany as a way to disguise the consumption of too much rum from a strict pastor, this hot rum and coffee drink is topped with whipped cream to keep the aroma of the rum from escaping detection by visiting clergy. Whip 1/2 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Blend 2/3 cup rum into 2 cups of hot, strong coffee, then divide the coffee and rum into 4 cups and add sugar to taste. Top with the whipped cream and serve immediately. Do not stir – Pharisäer is sipped from underneath the whipped cream topping. Best enjoyed on a cold, wind-swept Baltic coastline while munching on buttered Weihnachtsstollen.
- Hot Buttered Rum. Rum. Butter. Sugar. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. My old edition of The Joy of Cooking says this drink can “make a man see double and feel single.” [Your mileage may vary.] Find the recipe for Hot Buttered Rum right here.
- Mulled Wine. A decidedly grown-up variation on our Spiced Mulled Cider. Use red wine, Madeira, port, or sherry with our Mulling Spice Blend. Serve piping hot, and garnish with slices of lemon and pineapple.
- Chinese Five-Spice Mulled Wine is another delicious twist on the spiced wine theme. Here’s the recipe.
- Cardamom-spiced Mulled White Wine pairs green cardamom pods with ginger, lemon and a white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc. This drink is perfect for the folks who prefer fruitier white wines. Recipe here.