When the leaves have fallen, and frost forms on the windows overnight, we reach for the comfort of a hot drink to warm us from the inside out. Tea, coffee, and hot chocolate are all well and good for every day, but the approach of the holidays calls for something more festive. The traditions of Old England gave us wassail, a spiced cider or wine offered as refreshment to visiting carolers (who might not leave until they get some!). American colonists preferred hot buttered rum – and also eggnog, which is generally served cold, but contains enough alcohol to warm imbibers nicely. Here are two recipes for warming holiday beverages to get you in the mood for holiday fun.
All-Ages Wassail (about 20 servings)
As with all things ancient, there are many variations to be found; the main constants are apples and spice. The truly traditional will start with baked apples.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Pare one or two apples, preferably baking apples such as Granny Smith or Gravenstein. Core and slice thinly. Toss with one tablespoon of brown sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon cloves (or to taste; ginger, nutmeg and allspice are also appropriate additions.)
Spread apples in a single layer in a baking dish or jelly roll pan; bake until tender, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Set aside to cool.
- 1 gallon apple juice or cider
- 1 quart orange or orange pineapple juice
- 2 or 3 sticks of cinnamon (about 2” length)
- 12 whole cloves
- 12 whole allspice
2 or 3 tablespoons of premixed “mulling spices” can be substituted for the cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
Place the cinnamon, cloves, and allspice into a large tea ball or muslin bag – you may have to break the cinnamon sticks.
Put the fruit juices into a large stock pot with the spice bag; bring to a low simmer. Transfer to a punch bowl, garnished with baked apple slices.
This can also be made in a crockpot; start the juices and spices on low 3-4 hours before serving time; place an apple slice in each mug before filling with punch.
For those who want their wassail to have more kick: add your alcohol of choice just after the mixture has reached a simmer. Traditionally wassail was made with ale and sherry; a 12-ounce bottle of ale and one cup of sherry would suit the proportions given above. One cup of brandy, calvados, or rum could be used; or substitute hard cider for some or all of the apple juice.
Hot Buttered Rum
For the batter:
- 1 lb brown sugar
- 1/2 lb salted butter (2 sticks), softened
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mix ingredients into a smooth paste. This can be stored in the freezer until you want to serve it, and used one serving at a time.
To serve: Place a tablespoon of batter into a mug; add two ounces of dark rum. Fill with boiling water; stir. (All measurements are to taste; you can add more or less batter, use light or spiced rum, and more or less water, until you find your ideal.)