I’d always wondered what the holiday song meant, “Here we come a-wasailling/ among the leaves so green.” That is, until my mother-in-law offered me a mug of wassail years ago. The spicy, tart drink reminded me of a punchier apple cider. And the simmering wassail on the stovetop made the whole house smell like Christmas (no wonder, it has a full tablespoon of allspice in the mix).
When I tried to hunt down a recipe for wassail online I was surprised by all the entries. Wassail has some history! Apparently, wassail dates back to Medieval times. (Possibly even farther. Scratching your head at just when ‘Medieval‘ would be? Try 5th to the 15th century. Still scratching? Me too. Think: Monty Python and the Holy Grail . The word ‘wassail’ comes from a combination of ‘was hail’ which is how the Saxons would greet each other–and say good-bye. I guess a modern day equilvalent might be, “Whassup?”
But it seems there’s even more to the story. I’m no historian, but doing a little Google digging led me to entries about how wassailing, which is now also a term for ‘caroling’, may date back to a feudal custom practiced during the winter solstice. There was a tradition for the feudal lords (think: land owners) to offer food and drink in exchange to blessings from the pheasants who lived on their land. The whole idea in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” of “Now bring me some figgy pudding” makes more sense when you have this in mind (I’d always wondered about that line).
While I find the history of wassail intriguing, what I like is the whole idea of inviting over friends to go Christmas caroling, then coming back for mugs of warm citrusy cider. I think I’ll try that this year, but as far as the figgy pudding, I’ll pass.
Have you ever tried wassail? Did you like it? What about going a-wassailing?
Here’s Mama G’s recipe for Wassail
Prep time: 30 minutes
2 quarts water
1 c. sugar
6 sticks cinnamon
1 T. Whole allspice
2, 12 oz. cans frozen orange juice
1, 12 oz can frozen lemonade
1 gallon apple cider
- In a large cooking pot bring the water, sugar, and spices to a boil (the mixture will become syrupy). Boil for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to a simmer for half an hour.
- Remove the cloves and cinnamon.
- Add the concentrated juices and cider into the spiced syrup.
- Heat together. Serve warm.