Wassail has its origins in Yule, the ancient northern European solstice festival that predates Christmas and whence many Christmas traditions come. The name "wassail" derives from various Germanic toasts, such as the Anglo-Saxon
wæs þu hæl
or the Norse
both meaning, roughly, "be in good health!"
"Here we go a-wassailing
" refers to either the practice of singing
carols and receiving wassail in return, or (less frequently) serving wassail while singing carols.
Originally, wassail consisted of mulled beer or port or wine, flavoured with spices
(cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or ginger seem to be standard) and any available fruit (apples, typically) and heated. Over time, mulled cider replaced the beer, though beer wassail may certainly be found and, as the recipes here clearly indicate, various alcohol-based wassail recipes remain popular. As fruit juice became more readily-available year-round, juice (especially cranberry) was sometimes added for flavour.
Be creative. In the past, wassail was often served with bits of bread floating in it as well. Some of the recipes already posted here include eggs and sherry. As near as I can figure, if it's a "mulled heated beverage with stuff thrown in," it can be called wassail.
Father Time's Wassail started with a friend's recipe, and with the passing of years, altered slightly:
- Two-thirds mulled cider OR mulled cider and port.
- one-third cranberry with orange juice
- cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, ginger, orange slices, dates, apples with incisions (don't go overboard here)
Alcoholic or non-alcoholic cider?
You can use either, and alcohol can be added later.
The kind with port would already be alcoholic.
Yes. Clearly it would. Now let me finish.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer.
Keep on low heat for about an hour before serving, stirring occasionally.
You may want to fish out the more obtrusive pieces of fruit, especially if you're serving to young'uns.
Serve as is or with the addition of alcohol. Port or rum work nicely. I do not strongly recommend port and rum, but I leave it up to you.
Wæs þu hæl!