Proposing a toast to tasty wassail

SIPS

January 01, 2003|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Here we come a-wassailing" -- or maybe by this time in the holiday season, it's more accurately "there they went."

Either way, it's really not too late to enjoy a cup of wassail. In fact, in many places the custom is associated more with January and Twelfth Night festivities than with caroling at Christmastime.

Wassailing is a group activity, a way of greeting and toasting friends, so the wassail bowl became something of a symbol of community good will and hospitality. The word wassail harks back to old Anglo-Saxon and even Viking days, when earlier versions of the word were used as common greetings meaning "be healthy."

In parts of England, wassailing took on the air of fertility rituals several centuries ago, with people gathering in early January to wassail or wish health to farm animals and fields, and especially fruit trees. Not surprisingly, good cider provides the basis for many English wassails.

Check old recipe books or the Web for recipes, and it's evident that like many tradition-laden drinks, this one offers room for innovation, in terms of ingredients. What's important is that it be served hot from a bowl or some other common container, and that it be consumed in a convivial atmosphere.

Wassail is a good choice for New Year's Day, especially because there are plenty of attractive nonalcoholic versions for children and those wishing to start the new year on a festive yet sober note.

Here are two versions, one with alcohol, one without. Whether you copy them precisely or improvise, the important thing is to enjoy it as you wish family and friends a Happy New Year.

Wassail

Serves 8

2 cinnamon sticks, plus 8 for garnish

10 whole allspice

8 whole cloves

1 quart cranberry-juice cocktail

1 quart apple cider

2 tablespoons sugar

1 Granny Smith apple

1 cup Calvados or apple liqueur

equipment: a 6-inch-by-4-inch piece of cheesecloth; kitchen string

Wrap 2 cinnamon sticks, allspice and cloves in cheesecloth and tie with string. Simmer cranberry juice, cider, sugar and spice bag in a 5-quart heavy pot, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, 10 minutes.

Halve apple and cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices. Add apple slices and Calvados to cider mixture and simmer 2 minutes (slices will remain crisp). Serve hot and garnish with cinnamon sticks.

-- Gourmet magazine

Family Wassail

Serves 12 to 15

1 gallon apple cider

12 whole cloves

6 cinnamon sticks

1 quart pineapple juice

1 6-ounce can frozen orange-juice concentrate

2 cups cranberry-juice cocktail

1 lemon, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and simmer until hot.

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