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I have heard the term wassailing but never really knew what it was about. But I found this interesting information about it as well as some history and recipes. So I thought I would share it. Maybe this year we will go wassailing. :)
Lambswool Wassail Recipe
Lambswool, or Lamb’s Wool, is one of the traditional drinks of the ‘Wassail’, (or Apple Howling) it is either so called after the light colour and frothy appearance of the drink on the surface, or, as Richard Cook in 1835 believes, it stems from being served at La mas ubal, that is, ‘The Day of the Apple Fruit’; and being pronounced lamasool, it was corrupted to Lambs Wool. It is made with either hot ale or cider and roasted apples. Wassail: “a liquor made of apples, sugar, and ale; a drunken bout; a merry song”. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, published in 1756.
The word wassail derives from the Old English words wæs (þu) hæl which means ‘be healthy’ or ‘be whole’ – both of which meanings survive in the modern English phrase to be, ‘hale and hearty’. While the first reference to wassailing dates back to 1486-93 AD for payments for wassails at the New Year at St Mary De Pre Priory in St Albans.
Lambswool as a wassail drink is a traditional drink used in the ceremony of blessing the ground around your home, farm or orchard. The oldest ceremonies go back to Pagan times, seeking to start off the first stirrings of life in the land, and to help it emerge from winter – ensuring that the next season’s crop, (especially apples and pears in the orchard) will be bountiful – see the end of the post for common ceremonies. The most common date for this custom to now take place is Twelfth Night, the night of the 5th January, or on the ‘old’ 12th Night, January 17th – but it can vary as a tradition from one local area to the next, over the whole period of mid-winter.
wassailing: from the Oxford Dictionary of ‘English Folklore’
[there are two customs] The first is a ‘house-visiting’ custom, wishing health to neighbours, and the other is what could be termed a ‘field-visiting’ custom, wishing health to, usually, fruit trees, but also sometimes other farm crops, animals and so on. The proper day for wassailing varied from place to place, but was always mid-winter, at Christmas or New Year, and the name also varies considerably, including vessel-cup, waysailing, and howling.
In the house-visiting version, young women went about the neighbourhood with a bowl of drink, often spiced ale, dressed up with garlands and ribbons … the drink … was often described as Lamb’s Wool, made from spiced ale or cider and baked apples. [the women would sing] “Wassail, wassail all over the town, Our toast is white, our ale is brown, Our bowl it is made of a maplin tree, We be good fellows all, I drink to thee.”
The second form of wassailing was much more of a man’s custom … involved visiting the local orchards and wassailing the trees to encourage a good crop in the coming year. Songs would be sung, the trunks beaten with sticks or splashed with cider, cider soaked toast might be laid at the roots or placed in the branches …. [the men would sing] “Here stands a good apple tree, stand fast root, Every little twig bear an apple big, Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full, Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”
‘Gentleman’s Magazine’, Published May 1784
” … It was likewise the custom at all their feasts, for the master of the house to fill a large bowl or pitcher, and to drink out of it first himself, and then give it to him that sat next, and so it went round. One custom more should be remembered, and that is, that it was usual some years ago, in Christmas time, for the poor people to go from door to door with a wassail cup, adorned with ribbands, and a golden apple at the top, singing and begging money for it, the original of which, was, that they might procure ‘lamb’s wool’ to fill it, and regale themselves as well as the rich.”
The practice of Wassailing has survived down the centuries, although it is probably now most commonly celebrated in the cider and perry areas of the UK, notably in the ‘West Country’ of Somerset and Gloucester. However, it should be noted that the ale-based recipes are considered to be older than those based on cider. So depending on your area and its traditions use either ale or cider in the recipe below.
The recipe given is from the 1600s, a late Tudor early Stuart one, from a reference first published in 1648 as a poem by Robert Herrick, entitled, ‘Twelfe-Night’, or ‘King and Queene’, (other recipes for Lambswool or Wassel, or Wassail, printed around this time are also very similar, but this simple ale recipe as described below will have predated this time period considerably, probably going back to the Anglo-Saxons and Celts).
Tasting Notes: It is difficult to describe the taste of this Lambswool sat in an office taking a sip while writing up these recipe notes, as the taste differs vastly when drunk on a cold night when out wassailing and the blood is up … suffice it to say the apple, ginger and ale pleasantly dominate the taste, in that order.
Original Lambswool Recipe 1648 (1835)
From ‘Oxford Night Caps’, by Richard Cook, Published 1835
Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle Lambs wooll,
Adde sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too,
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger.
Herrick’s Twelfth Night, or King and Queen (published 1648)
This mixture is sometimes served up in a bowl, with sweet cakes floating in it.
Lambs Wool is merely a variety of the Wassail Bowl, and although not common in Oxford, is a great favourite in some parts of England. The following is the origin of the term Lambs Wool, as applied to this particular beverage. Formerly the first day of November was dedicated to the Angel presiding over fruits, seeds, &c. and was therefore named La mas ubal, that is, The day of the apple fruit, and being pronounced lamasool, our country people have corrupted it to Lambs Wool. Lambs Wool was anciently often met with in Ireland, but is now rarely heard of in that country, having been entirely superseded by the more intoxicating liquor called Whiskey.
Recipe. Mix the pulp of half a dozen roasted apples with some raw sugar, a grated nutmeg, and a small quantity of ginger. Add one quart of strong ale made moderately warm. Stir the whole well together, and, if sweet enough, it is fit for use.
Original Lambswool Recipe 1863
From ‘Cups And Their Customs’ By H. Porter & G. Roberts, Published 1863
Recipe for Lamb’s Wool.
To one quart of strong hot ale add the pulp of six roasted apples, together with a small quantity of grated nutmeg and ginger, with a sufficient quantity of raw sugar to sweeten it; stir the mixture assiduously, and let it be served hot.
Of equal antiquity, and of nearly the same composition, is the Wassail Bowl, which in many parts of England is still partaken of on Christmas Eve, and is alluded to by Shakspeare in his ” Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In Jesus College, Oxford, we are told, it is drunk on the Festival of St. David, out of a silver-gilt bowl holding ten gallons, which was presented to that College by Sir Watkin William Wynne, in 1732.
Recipe for the Wassail Bowl. Put into a quart of warm beer one pound of raw sugar, on which grate a nutmeg and some ginger; then add four glasses of sherry and two quarts more of beer, with three slices of lemon; add more sugar, if required, and serve it with three slices of toasted bread floating in it.
Lambs Wool Recipe From 1633 – Unattributed Source
Boil three pints of ale; beat six eggs, the whites and yolks together; set both to the fire in a pewter pot; add roasted apples, sugar, beaten nutmegs, cloves, and ginger; and, being well brewed, drink it while hot.
Although Richard Cook in 1835 puts his sugar and spices in with the apple pulp, we will be following the earlier (traditional) advice of Herrick in 1648 and others, and put the spices in the ale to mull first and the apple pulp in later. To make a Lamb’s Wool recipe with eggs and cream see this recipe: Lamb’s Wool ‘Wassel’ Recipe.
1.5 Litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of traditional real ale – or traditional cider
6 small cooking apples, cored (Bramley apples)
1 nutmeg freshly grated
1 tsp ground ginger
150g brown sugar (demerara)
Preheat the oven 120C
Prepare the apples in advance: time it so they are ready when you want to put them into the lambswool to serve.
Core the 6 apples fully, getting rid of the pips. Lightly grease the baking tray. Place the apples on the baking tray about 6cm (2 inches) apart – they will swell up a little. Bake the apples at 120C for about an hour or so – so they become soft and pulpy and the skins are easy to peel away.
Make the Lambswool:
In a large thick bottomed saucepan (which is quite tall to avoid splashes when whisking) add the sugar. Cover the sugar in a small amount of the ale (or cider) and heat gently. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Then add in the ground ginger and grate in the whole of the nutmeg. Stir, and keeping the pan on a gentle simmer, slowly add in all the rest of the ale (or cider). Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle heat as you deal with the apples.
Take the baked apples out of the oven to cool slightly for 10 minutes – they should now be soft and pulpy.
Break open the apples and scoop out the baked flesh into a bowl, discarding the skin. Then take a fork and mash this apple pulp up, while it is still warm, into a smooth purée with no lumps.Add the apple puree into the ale (or cider) lambswool, mixing it in with a whisk.
Let the saucepan continue to warm everything through for thirty minutes, on a very gentle heat, until ready to drink. When warmed through use the whisk again for a couple of minutes to briskly froth the drink up and mix everything together. The apple will float to the surface, and depending on how much you have whisked it, the more it looks like lamb’s wool.
Ladle the hot Lambswool into heat-proof mugs or glasses, or into a communal bowl to pass around.
On twelfth-night, (either the new one on the 5th January or the old one on the 17th January) toast a thick slice of rustic bread and place it into the bottom of a communal bowl. Then pour in the prepared lambswool. Take the bowl out into your garden, field or orchard, with friends and family, carrying lighted torches aflame, and pots and pans to beat with wooden spoons and sticks, (with more toast to hang in the branches of the trees and more cups of lambswool to drink and splash around to bless the area).
Make noise and light, crying “wassail! wassail!” (or sing one of the many rhymes) to drive off the unwanted spirits of the old year – beat the trunks of the trees with the sticks and splash the trunks with a little Lamb’s Wool. After everyone present has taken a drink from the lambswool (from the communal wassail bowl) pour a little of the lambswool and soggy toast from the bowl into the ground around the roots of a tree and put further fresh pieces of toast, dipped in lambswool, into the branches as a token to the new spirits of the new year, and a nod to the old ways of doing things.
If wassailing the apple trees sing: “Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee, Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow, Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills, Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.” or … “Here stands a good apple tree, stand fast root, Every little twig bear an apple big, Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full, Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”
I found this information at the following link - http://historicalfoods.com/lambswool-wassail-recipe
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