I’m venturing onto uncertain ground, here. I’m listing a recipe for a drink I’ve never actually tried–not this recipe, and not recently anyway. But given the season, I’ve been meaning to post info on more yuletide beverages. Unfortunately, so many seasonal libations fall into the “add a quart of heavy cream and a dozen eggs” category that there are only so many I can actually try, while still being able to fit through the door the next morning. This year, I’m saving up my heart-bomb drinks for Christmas Day, when I plan to put together an honest-to-god eggnog (I’ll be sure to wash down a Lipitor while I’m at it) for assembled family. But in case you’re looking for a range of options for your holiday party, wassail is an option you might consider.
Google “wassail” and you wind up at some truly devoted sites–while some of these are run by folks simply fond of the fabled bowl, others range into the Gandalf-bearded, broadsword-wielding, spell-casting hale-and-hearty hyper-enthusiasm that somehow takes a lot of the fun out of drinking. Ignore those for now and focus on a true craftsman of the drink: this recipe is from Charles Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book, from 1939. I present it verbatim:
THE ANCIENT WASSAIL BOWL from an Ancient Elizabethan Formula, Circa 1602, & Truly Notable for Its Exceeding Mildness
In Saxon times this custom of the Wassail Bowl at feast days was an important ceremony, and later it became an accepted custom at Christmas Eve, when minstrels or choirs, or village singers went about singing carols where there was a candle lit in the window.
In the Feudal castles, and manor houses, the Wassail Bowl was borne into the banqueting Hall with songs and carols, and crowned with garlands.
Nutmeg, 1/2 grated; or 2 tsp powdered
Powdered or grated ginger, 1 tsp
Cloves, 6 whole
Cinnamon, 1 inch of stick
Sugar, 1 cup
Eggs, yolks 6; whites 3
Apples, 6 cored, but not pared
Mace, 1/4 tsp
Sherry or Madeira, 2 qts
Take spices and cover with a cup of cold water. Fetch to a boil; adding wine and sugar. Let heat up . . . Meanwhile in the Wassail Bowl (Punchbowl) previously warmed:
Break in six yolks and three whites. Beat up. When wine is warm–not boiling–mix a teacupful with the egg. When a little warmer, add another cupful, and repeat until five cups have been used . . . Now let the rest of the wine boil up well, and pour it into the bowl also, stirring well all the time, until it froths in attractive fashion . . . Fill cored apples with sugar, sprinkle on a little of the spice and roast until nearly done. Time these to suit the end of the wine-pouring process. Throw them into the bowl, and serve the whole thing very hot . . . Some stout hearts add a tumbler full of good cognac brandy to the whole–and we, after testing the business, heartily agree with them; since sherry of itself isn’t potent enough to make any Saxon defend his native land, much less a 20th Century wassailer, with all we have been through during the one and a half decades that Saxons never even considered as drinkable fluid!