Entertaining | How to celebrate wassail at home


How to celebrate wassail at home

Even if you don’t go out wassailing over the next couple of weeks there’s no reason why you can’t throw an impromptu wassail party at home if you have an apple tree in your garden. Or even if you don’t . . .

As I explained in this earlier article wassailing is an old English custom celebrated mainly in the cider-making areas of Somerset and Herefordshire, the idea being to protect the cider apple trees from evil spirits and to encourage a good crop in the coming season.

It takes place on or around January 17th, the old twelfth night. One of the best is at The Ethicurean at Wrington just outside Bristol though I'm not sure they're doing one this year. Google ‘wassail 2022’ or check out the hashtag #wassail on Twitter for other events.

What generally happens is that pieces of toast soaked in cider are placed around the oldest or finest tree in the orchard, cider is poured round the base then shot guns are fired into the upper branches, buckets are beaten and a general cacophony of noise made to scare away evil spirits and wake the sleeping trees.

If you’re doing it at home I’d strongly advise dispensing with the shot guns and simply bang some saucepans and do a lot of shouting which the children will enjoy hugely. Adults too probably. You can also chant this wassailing poem

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be.
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs
Hip! Hip! Hooray!

It’s traditional to serve mulled cider and apple cake to celebrate wassail. I found a lovely recipe for a wassail cup in the Apple Source Book taken from Henrietta Green’s Festive Food of England and there's a good recipe for Somerset cider cake in River Cottage Baking.

You can find my own recipe for mulled cider here and a non alcoholic version below for those of you who are having a Dry January.

Mulled apple juice

Use the recipe as a basic guideline, adding more sugar or honey if you like it sweeter.

Serves 12

2 x 75 cl bottles cider apple juice* or other unsweetened apple juice
1 orange stuck with 10 cloves
2 oranges, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
6 level tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
5 cm piece cinnamon stick
2 level teaspoons finely grated fresh root ginger or ground ginger

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat to simmering point, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Keep it barely at simmering point for at least 20 minutes. This can be made in advance, then re-heated just before the party.

* You should be able to buy cider apple juice in a health food shop or farm shop. If not use a dry apple juice (such as russet) or add a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar to a good quality blended apple juice.

Mulled cider image ©zi3000 at fotolia.com. Wassail image © Bill Bradshaw

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