While every family has its own Christmas traditions, how about adding one from medieval England: the wassail bowl?
Wassail (pronounced WAH-sul) is an Anglo-Saxon term meaning “good health,” from the Middle English “wæs hæil.” During the holiday season, the host would invite friends over for a drink. The festivities began when he held up the bowl and called out, “Wassail!”
The tradition began in the 14th century in southern England, home to apple groves galore. The first wassail bowls contained hot mulled cider.
But your wassail bowl can contain whatever type of punch* you like.
This festive interpretation combines brandy plus sherry or madiera with holiday spices and eggs, to make a frothy punch. It’s like egg nog without the cream. The recipe carries on the apple tradition in the form of baked apples that float in the bowl. (To make it easier to scoop the wassail into cups, we suggest a flotilla of small apples rather than a blanket of large ones, as shown in the video.)
If you don’t have sherry or madiera, you can substitute red wine. If you don’t have brandy, use whiskey or rum.
Pick a date and invite friends to share the wassail bowl!
Prefer hot mulled cider? Here’s the recipe.
*FOOD TRIVIA: The word “punch” is adapted from the Hindi word, “panch.” In India, panch was made from five different ingredients: sugar, lemon, water, tea or spices and an alcoholic spirit. The word for “five” in Sanskrit is panchan–hence the name. After carbonated water (soda water) became mainstream in the late 18th century, it became a sixth ingredient, added to the punch for some effervescence. However, the word for six in Sanskrit is shata. “Shat” just doesn’t work, so we’ll stick with “punch.”
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