Holidays With Honey – What The H—- Is A Wassail?

wassail

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children
Whom you have seen before
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail, too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Wassailing refers to the charming English custom of going from house to house singing the above song while drinking plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoying oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.  Fun!!

Probably because it is so much fun, few holiday traditions have endured as long or seen so many variations. Wassailing’s origins are unknown, but it is mentioned in texts dating as far back as the Fourteenth Century. In one such text, the leader of a group took a bowl and, raising it to the crowd, shouted “Wassail!” an Old English term meaning “to your health” in the same way one might say “Cheers!’ today.

There are three main types of Wassailing. One is the filling of a common bowl or cup often referred to as a Loving Cup and passing it around to be shared.

Another variation is when a bowl is taken around to individual houses in a village so neighbors can partake as friends.

The third is a celebration of the apple harvest and the blessing of the fruit or trees.

In the earliest known days of the practice, the Wassail was poured on to the orchards after harvest as a libation or offering to bless the fields for the coming spring and to ward off evil.

Like many practices devoted to the defense against evil, Wassailing has always been seen as a festive activity and has always been associated with partying and making merry.

In the last couple of hundred years Wassailing has been more about good cheer and well wishing than the blessing of the crops although the practice of “tree blessing’ has seen something of a revival in rural areas. These days it is sometimes accompanied by a bonfire party and the firing of guns.

The actual ingredients in a traditional Wassail bowl are widely disputed.  This could be attributed to the fact that festive bands of people who traveled from home to home would often replenish their Wassail bowl with whatever was available. While one home might offer apple cider or ale another might have mulled wine or even spirits. Needless to say, after an hour or two of enthusiastic Wassailing most Wassailers were not particularly picky!

Wassail was sometimes called “lamb’s wool” due to its frothy appearance. Pieces of toast were floated in the drink to give it extra flavor, and it was considered a sign of good luck to find one in your own cup. This is thought to explain the origins of “toasting” someone today.

Alcohol definitely played a major part in Wassailing’s history, but some argue it is not essential. They (somewhat unconvincingly) claim the continuance of the custom has little to do with the drink and is all about the good will and friendship that Wassailing generates.

While interpretations of Wassailing differ, the concept clearly lives on both in spirit and practice. As ever, the Oxford English Dictionary provides the most inclusive definition – “Make merry with much alcohol” – an activity to which a great many of us can aspire this festive season.  A tasty Wassail recipe follows (minus the toast…)

A happy Wassail to you all.

A Traditional Shropshire Wassail Recipe – for hardened Wassailers!

10 very small apples

1 large orange stuck with whole cloves

10 teaspoons honey

2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3 cloves

3 allspice berries

2 or 3 cinnamon sticks

2 cups castor (superfine) sugar

12 to 20 pints of cider according to the number of guests

1 cup (or as much as you like) brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of honey. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Insert cloves into the orange about 1/2″ apart.

Bake the orange with the apples in a 350° oven.

After about 30 minutes, remove the orange and puncture it in several places with a fork or an ice pick.

Combine the sherry or Madeira, cider, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar, apple and orange juice and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly without letting the mixture come to a boil.

Leave on very low heat.

Strain the wine mixture and add the brandy.

Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples and orange on top and ladle hot into punch cups.

Makes enough for 15-20 people

Holidays With Honey – Honey Eggnog

egg nog

It wouldn’t be the holidays without eggnog. I love it on Christmas Eve while watching old movies with my family.

Come to think of it, I may just have an eggnog cupcake recipe around here somewhere…

Yield:  12-14 servings

Ingredients

1 cup honey

1 cup warm water

1 cup light rum

1 cup brandy

12 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups cream

Garnish: grated allspice or ginger

Preparation

In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the honey in the water. Stir in thoroughly the light rum and brandy. Beat the mixture, gradually beating in the egg yolks, the milk, and the cream. Beat the eggnog until it is foamy and serve it in individual stemmed glasses with a dusting of grated allspice or ginger.

British Week – A Nice Cup Of Tea

A Nice Cup of Tea

By George Orwell

Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.


If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)