Friday, November 21, 2008

Kitchen Witchen: Wassail

The word 'Wassail' is derived from the Old Norse 'Ves heill'. The Old English salutation 'Wes Hal' is derived from this Norse greeting and means 'Be In Good Health'. Wassailing is not just an excuse to drink and be merry, but is a serious ritual in areas like rural Devon where the apple plays an important part of the local economy. People gather in the orchards around a selected tree with the hardy spiced wassail in tow. The tree is celebrated and honored with music, singing, dancing and offerings of wassail soaked toast. Shotguns are fired and a general racket is created by the crowd, banging their saucepan lids and making percussive noises on all manner of improvised instruments. I imagine this is for purification as well as the traditional reason - to wake up the tree ready for the next crop. Anything that will help the trees produce a generous harvest is wholeheartedly encouraged.

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs

Traditional recipes often have eggs and ale or mead in them. Here is a adapted modern version of wassail with honey and spiced red wine.

  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 Cup organic honey
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 apples cored and wedged
  • 1 inch of grated fresh ginger
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 1 bottle medium dry red wine

Boil together water, honey, cloves, ginger and cinnamon for five minutes. Add apple wedges and thinly sliced lemon and orange (rind and all) and allow to stand for 7 or 8 minutes on low simmer heat. Add the red wine and heat slowly until just below boiling point.

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