Hearty English wassail & hot punch warms Christmas carolers (1975)
By Barbara Barte – Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) December 12, 1975
Carolers who “come a-wassailing” to Francesca and Robin Pearce’s home will feel especially welcome as, in true English tradition, they are ushered in and joined in carols around a wassail bowl centered on a holly-decorated and food-laden table.
After all, the wassail bowl — a hot, spicy punch of beer and sherry poured over apples — originated with the Anglo-Saxons in “Merrie Olde England.” And the Pearces, although they have lived in many countries and are now Tucsonians, are basically British.
The early English carolers were usually poor villagers who came to the manor houses expecting not only food and hot punch to warm and cheer them, but money to tide them through the Christmas season. Those who were not poor collected money for charities, and they rarely, if ever, went away empty-handed, Mrs. Pearce said.
Sometimes the villagers would go together and plan a meal for the carolers, with the first house on the route serving a hot tureen of soup, the second a meat course, and others bread, fruits and Christmas pastries.
Each had a bowl
Each household had its own wassail bowl — for carolers, guests and the family to enjoy as they wrapped gifts and decorated the house for Christmas.
The word “wassail” means health, and was a toast. “Toast,” by the way, originated from the toast that was sometimes floated on the punch in the wassail bowl.
Each family added its own special touches to the punch. Mrs. Pearce’s is a cup of very strong tea, which she adds to most punches, as she finds it keeps her guests “talking intelligently and driving home safely” without interfering with the good cheer (although it may interfere with their sleep later).
She also adds a cup of strong tea to julglogg, a hot Christmas punch that originated in Sweden, where it is customarily served at midnight on Christmas Eve as the gifts are given out. A smorgasbord of open-face sandwiches, cheese and pastries accompanies the julglogg, which is often flambéed before serving.
She doesn’t add tea to hot ale punch, another English favorite, but does add it to a cold cranberry punch recipe she was given by a friend from Virginia. Poured over dry ice, it lends a lovely “snowy” effect to Christmas parties.
Tradition says that, if you eat one each of the 12 days of Christmas — making a wish with the first bite of each — your wishes will come true in the new year. And, of course, one is left out for Father Chrismas (Santa to us) on Christmas Eve, and the children are always delighted to find it gone in the morning.
Many English Christmas traditions center around the 12 days of Christmas — beginning with Christmas Day and ending Jan. 5 on Epiphany (the date of Christmas before the calendar was changed from the Greek).
For example, there is the kissing bough, which is a holly wreath suspended from the ceiling or doorway by red ribbons, from which, by more red ribbons, hang 12 tiny red apples. A sprig of mistletoe hangs in the middle, and a man who maneuvers a woman under it (with or without her knowledge) gets to kiss her 12 times.
Many English people (including the Pearces) keep a diary of things that happen on the 12 days of Christmas — a trip, unexpected callers — and then find, coincidentally or whatever, that it often portends what will happen in the corresponding months.
The Christmas tree, burned with the holly in the fireplace the 12th day of Christmas, originated in Germany and was brought to England by Queen Victoria’s German husband Albert. In England (and at the Pearce’s), the tree is topped with a fairy whose wand is tipped with a star, and there is always a bird in the tree — sometimes a partridge, sometimes a bluebird for happiness.
The day after Christmas is “Boxing Day,” said Mrs. Pearce, but don’t jump to conclusions. It only means they have one extra day to “box” gifts for those who unexpectedly gave them one. Also, mailmen are customarily gifted with money on Boxing Day.
1. Traditional wassail bowl (1975)
1 large red apple or 6 crab apples
3 pints beer, preferably dark
1/2 pint sherry
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon or ginger
Peel of half a lemon, slivered
4 ounces light brown sugar
1 cup strong tea
Cook apples. If bottled crab apples are used, just warm them in their juices. If a large red apple is used, slice and stew or bake it. Put apples in punch bowl.
Heat rest of ingredients in a large pan, allowing space for foam. Taste; add more sugar if desired. Just as it reaches a boil, pour mixture over apples in punch bowl.
2. Old-fashioned hot ale punch (1975)
2 pints ale
1 wineglass sherry
1 wineglass brandy
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix all ingredients together, bring to a boil, strain and serve piping hot.
3. Julglogg (1975)
1 bottle aquavit or gin
1 to 2 bottles burgundy or claret
1 cup strong tea, if desired
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
About 1-1/2 inches stick cinnamon
Small piece lemon or bitter orange peel
Pour half the aquavit or gin and all the wine and tea into a large saucepan. Add the raisins and sugar. Tie the spices and peel in a piece of muslin and add to saucepan.
Cover the pan and bring very slowly to a boiling point; then lower heat and simmer half an hour. Add the remaining aquavit or gin, remove pan from heat and flambé. With a long-handled ladle, pour the flaming punch into warmed punch glasses and serve with raisins and almonds.
4. Hot cranberry punch (1963)
1 quart cranberry juice cocktail
1 quart apple juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup brown sugar
Juice of 2 oranges
Combine all ingredients except orange juice in saucepan and heat slowly until piping hot and spicy. Add orange juice and serve while hot. Serves 12. Rum flavoring may be added if desired.
5. Hot buttered punch (1963)
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon cloves
2 1-pound cans jellied cranberry sauce
3 cups water
1 quart pineapple juice
Butter or margarine
Bring to a boil sugar, water, salt, spices. Beat cranberry sauce with beater until “saucy.” Add water and beat until smooth. Add cranberry liquid and pineapple juice to hot spiced syrup and simmer about 5 minutes. Keep steaming hot over hot water.
To serve, ladle punch into mugs. Add dots of butter or margarine. Serve with cinnamon stick stirrers. Yield: 24 quarts.
6. Hot apple punch (1967)
Steaming hot mugs of apple punch make a cheery accompaniment to the cheese tray right now. While apple and cheese combinations have long been famous, this is a novel way to serve the favorite duo.
2 (48-ounce) cans apple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1-1/3 cups lightly-packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
8 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
2 whole nutmegs
1 teaspoon ginger
Small oranges, cut into wedges, or spiced red crab apples
Combine apple juice, lemon juice, sugar and butter in a large saucepan: heat to boiling point. Tie cinnamon sticks, cloves and nutmegs in a small piece of cheesecloth and drop into juice mixture. Stir in ginger.
Simmer gently, uncovered, 30 minutes or until Spicy enough to suit taste. Remove bag of spices. Pour punch into bowl. Stick extra whole cloves into surface of orange wedges or crab apples and add to punch. Serve hot.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
7. Hot cranberry punch (1977)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
7 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 16-ounce cans jellied cranberry sauce
1 12-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Mix brown sugar, 1 cup water, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in Dutch oven. Heat to boiling over high heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat. Stir in cranberry sauce until well-blended. Stir in remaining water, orange juice and lemon juice. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered 5 minutes.
Yields about 24 servings
8. Mulled apple cranberry punch (1963)
One bottle (one quart) apple juice
One bottle (one quart) cranberry juice cocktail
Three sticks (three inches each) cinnamon
One small seedless orange
12 whole cloves
Put juices and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. Cut orange into one-fourth inch slices and stick cloves around the edge; put in saucepan. Bring juices to boiling; reduce heat and simmer five minutes.
Serve hot in mugs or cups with cinnamon stirrers, if desired. Yield: 10 to 12 servings. Note: If desired, pour hot punch into heated punch bowl. Remove orange slices and float one or two small oranges studded with cloves in the punch bowl.
9. Old-fashioned hot punch: Pineapple cider (1962)
Combine one quart sweet apple cider with one 46-ounce can pineapple juice. Add one teaspoon whole cloves, one teaspoon whole allspice, small cinnamon stick and three to four thin slices lemon.
Cover and simmer 10 minutes; strain and serve hot. Delightful with fresh doughnuts. Makes about 15 servings.
10. Hot sage and cider punch (1972)
4-1/2 cups boiling water
5 tea bags
1 quart apple cider
1/4 cup sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons rubbed sage
Pour boiling water over tea bags in a heated teapot. Let steep about 5 minutes; remove the tea bags.
Meanwhile, combine apple cider sugar, and sage in a saucepan. Cover, bring to boiling and simmer 5 minutes. Add the tea to apple cider mixture and simmer 10 minutes longer. Strain. Serve hot in mugs. Garnish each with a twist of lemon. Makes about 7-1/2 cups punch.
11. Orange cider punch (1972)
3 medium-sizes oranges
2 quarts apple cider
2 cups water
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pieces (3 inches each) stick cinnamon
Stud oranges with whole cloves, inserting them about 1 inch apart. Place in shallow baking dish and bake at 325 degrees F about 1 hour, or until juice begins to form.
Remove from oven; prick peel thoroughly with a fork. Mix remaining ingredients in a saucepan. Set over medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boiling. Add oranges, and simmer 15 minutes.
Transfer oranges to heat-resistant punch bowl; strain punch through fine sieve into the bowl. Serve hot. Makes about 2 quarts punch.
12. Old-fashioned hot mulled cider (1972)
(A spicy, comforting drink)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 quarts fresh cider
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 inches stick cinnamon
Combine brown sugar, salt, and cider. Tie spices in small. piece of cheesecloth; add. Slowly bring to a boil; simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Serve hot with twist of orange peel and cinnamon sticks as muddlers, if desired. Makes 10 servings.
13. Hot pineapple cider (1972)
(Sweet-scented, with a warm tingle)
1/2 cup mint leaves
4 cups cider
2 cups sunsweetened pineapple juice
1 28-ounce bottle pale dry ginger ale (not chilled)
Crabapples, fresh or spiced
Crush mint leaves; add cider and pineapple juice. Bring to boiling point. Strain. Bring to a boil again. Add ginger ale. Serve immediately from punch bowl with crabapples afloat. Makes 9 cups or about 12 servings.
14. Hot Christmas punch (1945)
1 pound cranberries
4 cups water
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup honey or 1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups additional water
Cook cranberries with the four cups of water and grated rinds. Remove from element. Add remaining ingredients and serve.
15. Traditional apple tea toddy (1975)
2 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
6 whole allspice (or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice)
4 cups boiling water
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup dark raisins (or mixed dark and golden raisins)
2 cups apple juice
Place spices in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie into a bag. Place spice bag and tea bags into a large saucepan. Pour in boiling water, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove teabags. Stir in sugar. raisins and apple juice. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove bag of spices. Pour at once into heatproof mugs or glasses. Serve with spoons for raisins.
Makes about 1-1/2 quarts or eight 6-ounce servings.
Spirited version: Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of brandy after removing spice bag. Makes nine 6-ounce servings.
16. ’70s-style red hot apple cider punch (1979)
Combine 4 cups each water and apple juice in saucepan. Add 1 cup Kool-Aid brand pre-sweetened soft drink mix, any red flavor, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon each nutmeg and cloves. Mix well and bring just to a boil. Serve hot. Garnish as desired. Makes 16 servings.
17. Old-fashioned hot fruit punch (1971)
2 cups boiling water
4 teaspoons tea
2 cups sugar
2 cups orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup grape juice
2-1/2 quarts boiling water
orange and lemon slices
Steep tea in the boiling water for five minutes. Strain. Add sugar to hot tea, and let cool. Prepare fruit juices ahead of time, and keep covered tightly until ready to serve.
Combine tea, fruit juices and boiling water in large earthenware bowl or pitcher. Decorate with fruit slices. Serve hot in mugs or cups. Makes 16 large cups.