I've noticed that quite a few readers of The Greasy Spoon have been searching for wassail on the internet. As I'm feeling in a helpful mood, I'm revisiting a post that I wrote last year on the subject. I've also added a nice interactive link to a quirky short film I've found, explaining the wassail tradition in Herefordshire, England. Please take note of my own recipe for Mulled Cider. It's so utterly preferable to the ubiquitous Mulled Wine. I can't stress that enough.
Wassail is a traditional mulled punch, drunk at Christmas-time in the Northern and Germanic countries. Very Nordic. Wassailing can either mean the singing of carols (at Christmas, the serfs would wassail the Lord and Lady of the Manor), or, as in Gloucestershire, and other western counties, the wassailing of an apple tree- to ensure a good harvest, and drive away the evil spirits. This is done on Twelfth Night. I reckon that The Wicker Man was closer to the bone than many people realise.
Anyway, although I realise that the chances of wassailing an apple tree in down town Vancouver are practically zero, I'm going to give you my recipe for my very own wassail, otherwise known as Mulled Cider. I prefer it to Mulled Wine, I really do. The problem with the wine version, is that many people get it wrong. Very wrong. They chuck in a bottle of plonk, boil it up, and then add all sorts of other dodgy ingredients, including vodka; and the result is an over-acidic, pungent brew which can leave you with a god-awful hangover.
Mulled Cider is "different", smoother- and in my opinion delicious. There are no rules; but to get the best results, I suggest that you keep it simple. In a large pan, I pour in a decent dryish West Country or Norman organic cider. Try and avoid the cheaper, sweeter, fizzy stuff.
Next, I cut an orange in half, and add that. Do the same with a lemon. Now it's time for the spices. A cinnamon stick, a few cloves, ground nutmeg, and a kernel of ginger would work well.Taste it!
If it's too dry, add a bit of brown sugar. Start warming it up. You do not want to boil it. Keep it simmering at just below boiling point. If you boil it, all the alcohol will vapourise away- and you want your party to go with a swing, don't you? If you're going to serve it in glass mugs, make sure that you put a silver spoon in the mug first. This will prevent the glass from shattering.
If you've got time, decorate the wassail with "Lamb's Wool". This is just peeled apple simmered in cider until it goes woolly, and "explodes"; once that's done, you can float the pulp on top of the mulled cider.