Christmas carries with it many traditions of celebration and good cheer. One of the more colorful ones is the wassail bowl. Wassail is a hot spiced drink originally made with ale or wine used to toast friends and guests. Originally a Danish custom imported to England around the twelfth century by the Vikings, wassailing was adopted by the English as part of their Twelfth-Night and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Centuries ago the favorite holiday drink in Europe was wassail. Although there were many variations, they generally all were made from hot spiced ale, sometimes with butter or beaten eggs added. In the nineteenth century, Americans began to switch to spiced cider for the holidays. This was partly to deal with the chronic ale-induced drunkenness of servants and workers during the holidays – I kid you not. Cider was also regarded as more healthful and therefore morally upright.
In nineteenth century America, concerns over excess drunkenness encouraged hostesses to substitute apple juice for the ale or wine and add in a bit of rum (a New World creation) for flavor. Here’s a modern version for you to enjoy. Leftover spiced cider may be refrigerated and reheated later.
- 1 gallon apple juice or apple cider
- 1 orange — sliced cross-wise
- 8 sticks cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon cloves — whole
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 8 allspice berries
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1 cup rum or 1 tablespoon rum extract (optional)
- In a large pot or an electric crock pot place all ingredients except the rum or rum extract. Cover and cook on a simmer setting for at least 2 hours. During the first hour, stir occasionally to ensure the honey dissolves. About a half hour before serving, add the rum (or rum extract) and sample the punch to check for flavor. If you are using a conventional pot, pour the hot liquid carefully into a punch bowl. Makes about 20 six-ounce servings.