Who remembers the English folk song that starts, “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green”? That’s what I hummed when I saw the recipe for Cider Wassail in The Blue Ridge Cookbook. The book, a benefit for the Blue Ridge Country Day School in Millwood, Virginia, gives no date but it seems to be from the early 1950s.
The word “wassail” goes back way further, to at least the 8th century, and means a toast to good health. Eventually, the definition expanded to include the drink used for toasting, usually some kind of spiced wine, beer, or cider. The tradition of carrying a bowl for “a-wassailing” started in medieval times in England. At Christmas, those who were poor were allowed to ask for money or food from the wealthy. Some of these beggars carried a bowl filled with wassail so they could toast the lords or anyone who gave them charity. Wassailing continued in early America, though by the late 19th century, the bowl generally stayed on the table to serve a festive drink for Christmas or the New Year.
The Blue Ridge recipe taps into the English tradition and will scent your home with orange, cinnamon, and allspice. I reduced the original quantity, which served 30. Given the recipe’s publication in a school cookbook, the applejack is optional, but I recommend it for adults, as it cuts the sweetness. Serve warm, preferably by a fireplace. Happy holidays!
Blue Ridge Cider Wassail (1950s)
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole allspice [I used powdered]
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups apple cider
- Squeeze the orange and lemon, reserving the juices.
- Place the rinds in a saucepan with the cinnamon, allspice, and water. Simmer, covered, for 2 hours [I stopped after 1 hour because that seemed like enough time].
- Place the sugar in a large, heatproof bowl. Pour the citrus mixture through a strainer over the sugar. Stir and add the cider and reserved orange and lemon juices. [Leave the citrus rinds and spices in the strainer for an hour or two before discarding if you want the aroma in your kitchen].
- Pour the wassail into a pot and heat until hot, but do not boil.
- (Optional) Add applejack, about 1 ounce per serving.
- Serve hot. Leftovers are good chilled. [I even used some to liven up a salad dressing!]