“Gower Wassail” by Steeleye Span

22 Dec

Wassail” (pronounced wossayl or woss’l) is a hot, spiced punch often associated with winter celebrations of northern Europe, usually those connected with holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s and Twelfth Night. Particularly popular in Germanic countries, the term itself is a contraction of the Old English toast wæs þu hæl, or “be thou hale!” (i.e., “be in good health”). alternate expressions predating the term, with approximately the same meaning, include both the Old Norse “ves heill” and Old English “wæs hāl.”

While the beverage typically served as “wassail” at modern holiday feasts with a medieval theme most closely resembles mulled cider, historical wassail was completely different, more likely to be mulled beer. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast as sops. Hence the first stanza of the traditional carol the Gloucestershire Wassail dating back to the Middle Ages:

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

At Carhampton, near Minehead, the Apple Wassailing is held on the Old Twelfth Night (17 January). The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings, the following being the last verse:

Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We’ve come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs

Here’s a nice recipe for Wassail:

The taste of this drink is quite good. Deep, rich and spicy. It’s no wonder why this drink was handed out to those who went out caroling.

  • 2 pints and 1/4 cup brown ale (winter ale and scottish ale will also suffice)
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cloves
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 4 apples
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup port
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardomon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large sauce pan, pour in 2 pints of ale. Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon zest and cloves and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Take an apple, and score it with a knife around the circumfrance of the apple. Place in a baking dish. Repeat this step for all of the apples. Cover with one cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of ale, and all of the port. Cover baking dish and place in oven, cooking for 30 minutes.

While apples are baking, place remaining sugar and spices into the sauce pan, ensuring it’s well mixed.

When apples are done baking, place entire contents of baking dish into sauce pan. Allow to cook over a low heat for another 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot, one-two ladles into your favorite mug.

Serves 6-8

In conclusion, I highly recommend anything by Steeleye Span, but if I had to pick just one, I’d say their Spanning the Years compilation is terrific. They’re talented and fun.

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  1. Learn about apples » Blog Archive » “Gower Wassail” by Steeleye Span - December 23, 2007

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