Wassail is a traditional, hearty drink of hot mulled fruit cider flavored with spices. The warm beverage was historically an essential part of the ritual of wassailing, which was a popular drinking and singing tradition in southern medieval England meant to secure a good apple harvest in the following year by singing to the orchard trees.
Later, wassailing also became known as the tradition of going door-to-door greeting neighbors with song during the winter holidays. The word wassail originates from salute waes hail, which was a common Medieval English greeting, and even farther back to a pre-Norman conquest Anglo-Saxon toast meaning "be in good health."
The earliest recorded recipes of wassail included warmed mead, an ale brewed with honey, which was then brewed with roasted crab apples. Later, the beverage became a mulled cider made with sugar and various spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Today, wassail recipes are abundant, with home books putting their personal twist on the traditional historical drink. Modern recipes can begin with wine, fruit juice, or mulled ale with brandy or sherry added. Fresh apples or oranges are often added to the brew.
This wassail recipe, which appears in the Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook by Kitty and Lucian Maynard, calls for easy to find ingredients like apple cider and cranberry juice and gets its kick from optional rum and aromatic bitters. This rum version is sure to warm you through any cold weather but is especially popular during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
- 1 gallon apple cider
- 2 quarts cranberry juice
- 1 tablespoon aromatic bitters
- 4 sticks cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon white allspice
- 2 oranges (studded with cloves)
- Optional: 2 cups rum
- Combine apple cider, cranberry juice, bitters, cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, and rum in a large saucepan over low to medium-low heat.
- Heat gently on stove and serve warm.*
This drink is perfect for a party and it can be served like punch and also sends wonderful, spicy aromas throughout the house.
- Fresh non-alcoholic apple cider from a local apple orchard or cider mill is best, but you can substitute with store-bought ciders available year-round as well.
- Oranges studded with cloves are also known as pomanders, which are a winter holiday favorite. They are not only used in a variety of holiday and winter cocktails, but they have a history of being used as winter home decor and natural seasonal air fresheners.
- This wassail recipe can also be made in a slow cooker to keep you and your stove free during holiday dinner parties. Simply set your slow cooker on low or warm to keep the wassail aromatic and ready to serve all night.