How to Make Wassail, a Traditional Christmas Mulled Cider

Updated on August 30, 2018
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Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over twenty years and has cooked on multiple television stations, including Food Network.

Wassail is a punch from the British Isles, traditionally made during the winter holidays for Christmas or New Year's. It's a mulled apple cider that will warm you on the coldest days.
Wassail is a punch from the British Isles, traditionally made during the winter holidays for Christmas or New Year's. It's a mulled apple cider that will warm you on the coldest days.

Here We Come A-wassailing...

When I was in middle school, I attended a tiny little school set way back in the Appalachian mountains with a founding date of 1780. Needless to say, there were quite a few well-entrenched traditions, including an event at Christmas that involved a lot of caroling.

"Here We Come A-wassailing" was one of the ones I remembered most, although I had no idea for years just what that meant. It wasn't until about a decade ago that I figured out that wassail was a drink, not necessarily an event. It didn't lessen the delight that the ten-year-old me took in the old Christmas carol.

Wassail actually was both. Originally, it involved making a punch during Christmas or New Year's and carrying the punch through a town, going door to door in the village, and either giving out the punch or demanding gifts from the homeowners, or perhaps both. Apparently, it occasionally meant pouring punch on trees, proving once and for all that some of our holiday celebrations make no sense whatsoever. Doesn't make them any less fun—or delicious!

I think the original punch most likely involved copious amounts of alcohol, which means the tree-drinking was at least a bit more understandable, if no less illogical. Wassail is like eggnog in that respect. This version is alcohol-free, although you could certainly add a good shot of bourbon or rum if you'd like.

I make mine in the slow cooker now, although it's just fine on the stove top. If you use a slow cooker, just set it for 4-6 hours. If doing it on the stovetop, keep your pot on a mere simmer for about 2 hours or so. Either way works just fine. In any case, it involves throwing the ingredients into a pot and letting it do its thing while I do something else, which I love. Who needs more fussiness during the holidays?

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 24 whole cloves
  • 2 whole oranges, halved
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. Place apple cider in a crockpot. You can also let it simmer on the back of the stove in a Dutch oven if you like—but you'll have to remember to stir it, and cook it for half the time.
  2. Add cinnamon sticks, allspice and brown sugar and stir.
  3. Press the cloves into the oranges and lemons, and cut the citrus fruits in half. Add them to the crockpot with the cider.
  4. Add fresh nutmeg. Cover the crockpot and set to low. Cook for 4-6 hours, and serve hot. Merry Christmas!

Serve Hot

Serve hot - wassail is rich with spices - cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and the fragrance of the spices really awakens and becomes fragrant and fabulous when the drink is warm.
Serve hot - wassail is rich with spices - cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and the fragrance of the spices really awakens and becomes fragrant and fabulous when the drink is warm.

Wassail: The Traditional Kind

Nobody actually knows how to make the traditional wassail. The origins of the drink go back for centuries, stretching into the middle ages. Recipes weren't written down for wassail until the middle of the 19th century, so whatever we make today is rather a guess. Most likely it originally contained far more spices than today, including mace, and far more cloves and nutmeg. Probably why they laced it with a lot of alcohol. Modern palettes are very different, and this version reflects that.

Start with Apple Cider

If you can find an unfiltered apple cider it's much better. But if all you can get is plain apple cider, it'll be just fine. Pour the cider into a crock pot or large Dutch oven or soup pot and set the temperature to low or medium low.
If you can find an unfiltered apple cider it's much better. But if all you can get is plain apple cider, it'll be just fine. Pour the cider into a crock pot or large Dutch oven or soup pot and set the temperature to low or medium low.

Place Cloves in Oranges and Lemons

24 whole cloves is a lot - you may want to use a few less, although we like this much. Studding the citrus fruit with the cloves makes it far easier to serve the drink later - the little cloves don't get lost in the wassail.
24 whole cloves is a lot - you may want to use a few less, although we like this much. Studding the citrus fruit with the cloves makes it far easier to serve the drink later - the little cloves don't get lost in the wassail.

Cut Oranges and Lemons in Half

Cutting the oranges and lemons in half lets the citrus juices escape into the cider as the wassail simmers. The cloves really perfume the whole drink, and the apple, orange and lemon is really gorgeous and festive.
Cutting the oranges and lemons in half lets the citrus juices escape into the cider as the wassail simmers. The cloves really perfume the whole drink, and the apple, orange and lemon is really gorgeous and festive.

Lemons

The acidic nature of the lemon and orange is a beautiful counter to the sweetness of the cider and brown sugar, and the rich pungency of the spices.
The acidic nature of the lemon and orange is a beautiful counter to the sweetness of the cider and brown sugar, and the rich pungency of the spices.

Add Nutmeg

I use fresh nutmeg - it's just so different than pre-ground it's amazing. Nutmeg can also dominate very easily, so start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste. If you like more - go ahead!
I use fresh nutmeg - it's just so different than pre-ground it's amazing. Nutmeg can also dominate very easily, so start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste. If you like more - go ahead!

Let It Simmer

Keep the heat low and cook it slow - the easy heat will release the spices and citrus juices and blend the flavors of the wassail beautifully.
Keep the heat low and cook it slow - the easy heat will release the spices and citrus juices and blend the flavors of the wassail beautifully.

Serve Hot!

Wassail is best served pretty hot, and its perfect for holiday parties or gatherings.
Wassail is best served pretty hot, and its perfect for holiday parties or gatherings.

The Lyrics: "Here We Come A-wassailing"

Some more modern versions swap out "wassailing" for "caroling," but the original version talked about wassail, and was celebrated at Christmas or New Year's.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wandering
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy unto 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.

Our wassail cup is made
Of the rosemary tree,
And so is your beer
Of the best barley.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are neighbors' children,
Whom you have seen before.

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.

We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin;
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth;
Bring us out a moldy cheese,
And some of your Christmas loaf


God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too,
And all the little children
That round the table go.

Good master and good mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Jan Charles

    Comments

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      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        The recipe sounds delicious, especially for Christmas. I remember singing the carol that you describe when I was a child.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        11 months ago from Germany

        This sounds good. I have not heard of Wassail before. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

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