Tag Archives: drinks

Wassail!

Wassail

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.

A Gloucestershire Wassail, dating to the Middle Ages.

Yesterday was the 6th of January, the final feast day of Christmas, the day of epiphany, Twelfth Night. Down in the counties of South-West and South-East England a very old and special ceremony takes place in the apple orchards; the Wassail was a way to celebrate the end of Christmas and to bless the trees so that they will bear plenty of fruit for the cider. It was a time of celebration and merry-making. All of this happened at dusk, a magical time of day, where the world faeries and spirits overlapped with the world of Man. In different parts of England, the day upon which the Wassail occurs changes: some celebrate it on the 5th of January (the Eve of Epiphany), and others on the 17th of January (this is day Twelfth Night would occur before the Introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, “Old Twelfthy Night”, as it was called).

2014-01-05 16.29.40

A blurry, dusky Levenshulme Community Choir leading our Wassail

For the Wassail ceremony a Wassail King and Queen are nominated who lead the other revellers a merry dance around the trees. In the largest trees, the Queen is lifted into the boughs so she can spear pieces of toast that have been soaked in Wassail punch (I’ll get to that in a moment or two) as an offering to the tree spirits of the orchard. As folk dance about the trees, other run around banging pots and pans to drive out the evil spirits.

Wassailing predates the Battle of Hastings and is thought to have its origins in Ancient Rome, where people would make sacrifices to the Pomona, the Roman Goddess of Fruits. The word Wassail originates from the Anglo-Saxon waes-hael, meaning “to your health” and the word is used just as we would use Cheers! today. Below is one telling of its origins by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 1135 book History of the Kings of Britain:

While Vortigern was being entertained at a royal banquet, the girl Renwein came out of an inner room carrying a golden goblet full of wine. She walked up to the King, curtsied low, and said “Lavert King, was hail!” When he saw the girl’s face, Vortigern was greatly struck by her beauty and was filled with desire for her. He asked his interpreter what it was that the girl had said and what he ought to reply to her. “She called you Lord King and did you honour by drinking your health. What you should reply is ‘drinc hail.'” Vortigern immediately said the words “drinc hail” and ordered Renwein to drink. Then he took the goblet from her hand, kissed her and drank in his turn. From that day to this, the tradition has endured in Britain that the one who drinks first at a banquet says “was hail” and he who drinks next says “drinc hail.”

I was lucky enough to go to a Wassail in Levenshulme in Manchester, which is not in the south of England, but the north. In Levenshulme there is a lovely community orchard, and it should be blessed just like any other. It was a great evening and really interesting to see just a glimpse of old England. If you have apple – or any fruit – trees, they why not have a Wassail. Indeed anything that needed blessing could wassailed like other crops like barley and livestock. Of course you’ll need to make some wassail to drink…

2014-01-05 16.52.19

Spiking the trees with toast offerings

The drink wassail is essentially a hot mulled cider or ale, sweetened with sugar and made aromatic with spices and made much boozier with sherry, brandy or sack (a sweet, fortified ale similar in taste to sherry) and sometimes thickened with eggs. An essential ingredient in the wassail drink is roasted apples, which would quickly burst and fall apart, giving wassail its alternative name ‘lamb’s wool’. Also floating on the surface would be plenty of toast.

The hot wassail is poured into a large carved wooden bowl and it is passed around the crowd so that everyone can take a good mouthful, raise it above their head and shout “Wassail!”. It is because of this celebration, we “raise a toast” when having drinks.

Two Wassail Recipes

2014-01-02 20.31.42

Here’s a recipe dating from 1722 that appears in the excellent book 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 liked that it is diluted with beer! What brew it must have been.

Below is my rather pared down recipe for wassail:

Ingredients:

4 to 6 apples

3 litres of good cider

6 cinnamon sticks

dark rum, to taste

soft dark brown sugar, to taste

around 500ml of water

toast (optional)

Prepare the apples; cut around them a circle halfway down, this stops them bursting when cooking, place on a tray and bake in a moderate oven until they have begun to collapse, around 30 minutes. Whilst you wait for the oven to do its job, pour the cider into a large pan with the cinnamon stick, at least 3 generous tablespoons of sugar and 250ml of rum and half of the water. Bring to a simmer and add more sugar and rum, and dilute accordingly with more water. Lastly, for tradition’s sake, atop with slices of toast.

2014-01-01 00.14.42

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Festivals, food, Fruit, General, history, Recipes

Forgotten Foods #4: Cock Beer

cockerel

Recently I have been thinking of re-igniting my interest in home-brewing. Previous attempts to make alcohol have never been successful. I have made white wine that tasted of rotten eggs, and made dandelion wine that, when bottled, exploded spectacularly in my lounge. Now I have a couple of books that spell out the process, and I am a little more confident that I can do it.

Naturally I have been hitting the old cookbooks for some historical inspiration and came across this recipe for cock-beer. In this recipe from 1780, you essentially make a giant cock tea-bag to impart its essence into your brewing beer:

Take 10 gallons ale, a large cock (the older the better). Slay, caw and gut him, and stamp him in a stone mortar. Add spice and put all in a canvas bag. Lower him into the ale while still working [i.e. fermenting]. Finish working and bottle.

That is actually a toned down receipt – many times live cockerels were used. Goodness knows how people didn’t die. Perhaps they did!

It doesn’t stop at cocks in beer, oh no, in Cornwall sheep’s blood – hot from the slaughter – was added to cider; and what did it taste like? According to Andrew Boorde, the 16th Century physician and traveller: “[it] is stark nought, looking whyte and thicke as pygges had wrastled in it.”

There were many tales of men’s heads being thrown into the hogshead along with the beer, and perhaps they weren’t just tales, because the cockerel wasn’t added to the beer for flavour (I suspect that the spices were added to mask the flavour of the bird). The idea is that the animal’s strength, courage and vigour would be imparted into the brew. So these beers were in fact more remedies than proper drinks.

King William III

William III: Cock Beer Lover

That said, two brave brewers called Chris Thomas and Adam Cusick, brewed a batch from this very recipe, obviously with a certain amount of interpretation. They did welch a little bit by using a cooked chicken. However a delicious ale was produced that was mellow and ‘shared distinct similarities with a strong Belgian ale’. Apparently, William III’s drink of choice was cock beer, and it has been noted several times through the centuries for its superior quality.

My gut feeling is that is must be foul (no pun intended), yet it gets all this praise. Well, when I become a seasoned brewer of beer, I might just give it a go.

One last thing:tantalisingly, it has been suggested that the word cocktail (a work whose origin is famously unknown) comes from cock-ale. O how I wish it was true.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Brewing, Britain, food, General, history, Meat, Recipes

Mulled Cider

Merry Christmas!

Everyone seems to be drinking mulled cider rather than mulled wine this year so I thought I’d stick my oar in and give you my recipe for it (if you prefer mulled wine click this link for my recipe for that from last year). You may have been expecting a massive over-the-top Christmas feast post this time of year; well, I can only apologise as this is all I can muster. I promise to do something better next year…

Mulled cider has been drunk during the winter festivities at least as long as mulled wine and it is perhaps the descendant of a much older drink called wassail made from roasted apples that was knocked back by many in the south-west of England. Wassail night involves a most bizarre ritual that requires a man blacking himself up as revellers hang pieces of dry toast onto twigs. I shall leave that hanging there. It deserves its very own post – perhaps it shall be next year’s Christmas tipple recipe.

20121228_191019[1]

The recipe is pretty straight-forward – you need a good dry cider, a little sweetener and a little fortification of alcohol in the form of dark rum. Then it’s the usual spices that one would expect: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. It’s very delicious and much nicer than mulled wine I think. The amounts given below are for mere guidance as it is all to taste really:

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) dry cider

2 cox’s apples, sliced

2 clementines, sliced

2 sticks of cinnamon

6 allspice berries

4 cloves

small piece of nutmeg

2 to 4 tbs dark rum

2 or 3 tbs soft dark brown sugar

20121228_184345[1]

Place the cider, fruit and spices in a saucepan and heat gently so that all the flavours can infuse into the cider for 5 to 10 minutes– on no account let it boil, you don’t want to cook the alcohol away. Next, add the rum and sugar to taste and serve!

7 Comments

Filed under Britain, Christmas, cooking, food, General, Recipes, Uncategorized

Mulled Wine

There is nothing better to warm your cockles during Christmastime than a bit of mulled wine. If you have never tried it or heard of it, then you are certainly missing out on something. Mulled wine is essentially hot, sweetened red wine made aromatic with the addition of citrus fruits and warming spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s history goes right back to the Ancient Greeks.

Before mulled wine was the drink hippocras, which was supposedly invented by the Greek scientist and Father of Medicine, Hippocrates. The idea being that it was something of a tonic. The wine was either red or white and not necessarily hot either, but it was spiced and sweetened with honey. In Britain, the drink was very popular and there are several recipes for it. Here’s one from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson (1596):

To make Hypocrace

Take a gallon of white wine, sugar two pounds, of cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, mace not bruised galingall [sic]…and cloves not bruised. You must bruise every kind of spice a little and put them in an earthen pot all day. And then cast them through your bags two times or more as you see cause. And so drink it.

Not heating it up obviously meant you had plan a little ahead if you wanted to have a few goblets of hippocras at your Tudor feast.

By the seventeenth century, mulled wine recipes start to appear such as this eighteenth century recipe from Elizabeth Raffald in The Experienced English Housekeeper:

Grate half a nutmeg into a pint of wine and sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar. Set it over the fire and when it boils take it off to cool. Beat the yolks of four eggs exceedingly well, add to them a little cold wine, then mix them carefully with your hot wine a little at a time. Then pour it backwards and forwards several times until it looks fine and bright. The set it on the fire and heat it a little at a time for several times till it is quite hot and pretty thick, and pour it backwards and forwards several times. Then send it in chocolate cups and serve it with dry toast cut in long narrow pieces.

It is strange that the Tudor recipe actually seems more like modern mulled wine that the newer one.

Well here is my recipe for mulled wine – it is difficult to add quantities as you add most things to taste. It is also quite difficult to give an official list of ingredients; you can add any warm spice you like really (I expect a blade of mace would be an excellent addition, though I have never tried it), so this recipe is more a guideline than anything.

Ingredients

2 bottles of red wine, good but not great

¼ pint of brandy

½ pint of water

2 oranges, sliced

1 lemon, sliced

2 sticks of cinnamon

½ a nutmeg broken into several pieces

5 cloves

at least 4 tablespoons sugar

In a large saucepan, add all the ingredients and slowly heat the wine, stirring every now and again to dissolve the sugar and get the flavours dispersed.

It is important not to let the mulled wine boil as the alcohol will evaporate and we don’t want that. Taste, and add more brandy, sugar or water if you think it needs it. Keep the mulled wine on the lowest heat possible to keep warm and ladle into mugs or glasses.

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Eighteenth Century, food, history, Recipes, Sixteenth Century, Uncategorized