Wassail Drink History
Wassail is traditionally an ale based mulled apple cider associated with Christmas and New Years celebrations dating back to the 1400s. The punch derived its name from the Old English term “waes hael” meaning good health and originally was part of a drinking ritual meant to bless the apple trees trying to ensure a good harvest of fruit the following year.
The wassail recipes varied by regions of the country, but one popular version known as “lambs wool” included ale, roasted apples, sugar, mulling spices, eggs, cream and toasted pieces of bread. These floating bits of toast are what looked like lamb’s wool.
Apple tree wassailing was a ceremony where local villagers would drink to the health of the trees and raise a ruckus to scare off any evil spirits. Wassail was splashed on the apple trees and the largest had cider poured on its roots and pieces of the wassail toast were stuck into the branches as a way to guarantee a good crop.
This evolved into taking bowls of wassail around from house to house in a sort of combination between Christmas caroling and Halloween trick or treating. Wassailing carols wishing good health were sung along with the hot, spiced ale offered and in return the people in the houses visited gave them money and Christmas fare like mince pies and seasonal foods which was thought to bring good luck for the new year. Another way of wassailing is filling a common “loving cup” to be passed around and shared within the room.
Another European rooted hot, mulled punch is glogg. The two Christmas drinks have some similarities and notable differences. As a rule of thumb, both wassail and glogg contain cloves, cinnamon and sugar, but glogg is red wine based and traditional wassail is ale based and predominantly apple flavored.
How To Make Mulled Wassail Apple Punch
Times have changed though and the preference for warm beer has been substituted for hard apple cider, brandy, sherry, whiskey and wine as the spirit of choice in the recipe. Many have a combination of liquors like the one below.
- 10 small apples
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 bottles dry sherry or Madeira
- 1/2 cup apple juice or cider
- 3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1 medium orange, peeled in strips w/o pith
- 1 cup brandy or bourbon
Cooking Instructions - preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Core the apples and place in a glass baking pan. Evenly divide and spoon the brown sugar into the center of each hollowed out apple. Pour in the water to cover the bottom of the pan an 1/8 inch or so. Bake 30 to 45 minutes or until tender.
Add the sherry or Madeira, apple juice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and orange peels to a saucepan (or prepare a sachet cheesecloth bag of spices). Heat the mixture above 120 degrees F monitoring with a thermometer but do not let mixture boil. Leave on very low heat to keep warm.
In separate bowls, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and the egg yolks until light and frothy. Fold the whites into the yolks until just combined. Strain the mulled wine or remove the spice bag and slowly add the liquid to the eggs while stirring constantly.
Pour the wassail into a punch bowl and add the brandy or bourbon along with the roasted apples and the remaining liquid from the baking pan. Stir well.
Skip the actual toast, but raise a Christmas toast with your wassail, blessing good health and harvest for the new year. Happy Holidays!