Day two of the History Jar advent calendar of festive food and drink. Cristesmæsse is first recorded as a word in 1038. The Venerable Bede was not impressed with the Anglo-Saxon winter festivities:
They began the year with December 25, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through.
Least said soonest mended I think! I don’t think we need linger on Bede’s disdain for the primitive behaviour of the locals. And rather unfortunately he did not think so far ahead as to ask for some recipes so we’ll just have to move on to the booze.
Wassail is a traditional Christmas and New Year toast. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for “to your health” – “waes hael”.
A wassail cup often involves quite a lot of cider but not always. It would be offered to guests throughout the festive period. In some cases a large wassail cup was taken from door to door (not appropriate in these socially distanced times.) The other kind of wassailing involves gathering in orchards to pour the wassail over the roots of the trees to encourage a good return on the next year’s harvest. This kind of wassail can involve singing to bees as well. It often takes place on twelfth night.
This recipe dates from 1722 from a book entitled Food in England by Dorothy Squires:
Take 1 lb. of brown sugar, 1 pint of hot beer, a grated nutmeg, and a large lump of preserved ginger root cut up. Add 4 glasses of sherry, and stir well. When cold, dilute with 5 pints of cold beer, spread suspicion of yeast on to hot slices of toasted bread, and let it stand covered for several hours. Bottle off and seal down, and in a few days it should be bursting the corks, when it should be poured out into the wassail bowl, and served with hot, roasted apples floating in it.
I’m not sure what “suspicious yeast” looks like but I think after that lot no one would particularly care. The National Trust has a rather more palatable looking recipe which could be served as an alternative to mulled wine. The are lots of modern versions available.
And the non- alcoholic version courtesy of Saga magazine:
- 6 small cooking apples, cored
- 125g (4½oz) demerara sugar
- 1.5 litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of rich, fruity ale (I used a mix of Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen)
- ½ grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp freshly grated or ground ginger
- Cinnamon sticks, to serve
Preheat the oven to 120C/250F/gas mark ½. Bake the cored apples on a lightly greased baking tray for about 1 hour, until soft and easy to peel.
Meanwhile, put the sugar into a large heavy-based saucepan and cover with a small amount of ale. Heat this gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Add the grated nutmeg, ginger and the rest of the ale. Stir and keep at a gentle simmer.
Cool the baked apples for about 10 minutes, then peel, reserving a few strips, and blend to a soft purée. Add this to the simmering ale and whisk thoroughly.
Leave to gently simmer for about 30 minutes. The frothy apples should rise to the surface. Ladle into sturdy glasses and serve with cinnamon-stick stirrers and a strip of peel.