Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.

I made my first batch of wassail five years ago after having visited the Daniel Boone homestead, which is about 20 minutes from here.

At Christmastime, the homestead was decorated in a colonial manner, of course, and before your tour began, you were offered a cup of hot wassail. That cup, although delicious, varied dramatically from the wassail one enjoyed centuries ago. Today’s version is more like a mulled cider—yesteryear’s incorporated ale and spices with “sops” or toast placed on top to “sop” the liquid.

Wassail was also part of a ritual offered to apple trees to showcase the current year’s harvest and ensure a healthy harvest the following year. One such ceremony included the election of a village king and queen. The Wassail Queen would be lifted into the boughs of the apple tree to place sops, an offering, so to speak, to the “tree spirits.”

The term “wassail” refers to the salute “Waes Hail” — an Old Norse and Old English phrase meaning “Be in good health.” The consumption of wassail dates as early as the 11th century but, I think, we tend equate it with a later use. Apparently, in the 17th century, it was common to take your bowl of wassail from door to door offering cups to friends and neighbors — thus, “here we come a-wassailing.”

Below is a basic recipe for wassail, compliments of www.about.com
2 tsp whole cloves
3 short cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tbs crystalized ginger, chopped
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 cups water
4 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
8 cups apple juice

In a small piece of cheesecloth, tie a bag with the cloves, cinnamon sticks and ginger pieces. In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar and spice bag until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Heat on a low simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes. Remove spice bag.In a large punch or serving bowl, stir together the juices and add the spiced sugar water. Stir through and serve while still warm. Serves about 24 people.

So, if you’ve grown tired of taking the holiday platter of cookies to neighbors, why not offer a bowl of wassail and toast to “good health”. Hey, wait a minute: I wonder if that’s where “toast” came from?  The sops??  Hmmmm. Time to do a little more research.

Here’s to your health!