Wassail is the quintessential holiday drink with a history that goes back at least to the Medieval period, with some evidence indicating that the drink is much older. Originally, wassail was a cider drink with ginger and mulling spices and oddly enough, topped with toast. It was often consumed in early January during a ritual to awaken a village’s apple trees to promote growth and to scare away any evil spirits that might damage the trees. More modern versions have replaced the cider with wine or other alcohols, but I much prefer the original cider (minus the toast!) Of course, I have my own versions to give it a little twist. Here is one of my favorites.
8 cups of apple cider
2-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of dried cherries
1 ancho chile
1 orange, pierced evenly with 16 cloves
2 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 small nutmeg, grated or 3/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
Optional Spices: 10 black peppercorns, 6 green cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
Optional Sugar: 1/4 cup of brown sugar or 1 medium-sized piloncillo
Place all the ingredients in a large pot, using any or all of the optional spices if you prefer, except for the sugar. Simmer this over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour. Add the sugar or piloncillo about 5 minutes before you are done simmering the wassail and gently stir the drink to make sure the sugar melts.
“You can lower the heat to low and keep the cider mulling even longer, up to four hours in fact, but I rarely have the patience for that.”
Place a strainer over a punch bowl or slow cooker and pour the wassail through the strainer into the serving vessel to remove the small spices, cinnamon, etc.
“I usually save the chile and cherries because they’ve been infused with all these wonderful flavors. You can puree them and use the puree as the base of a sauce for another dish.”
Medium-size Pot (at least 2 1/2 quarts)
Serving Bowl or Slow Cooker