You could use cider for the wassail cup but the original incarnations used ale or mead. Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes hael – ‘be healthy’, hence ‘hale and hearty’.
The puréed apples in my recipe can be left out, but the traditional wassail cup, originally drunk from a communal wooden bowl, might have contained baked apples, cakes and toast spread with spices such as cinnamon – hence, a ‘toast’. Without them it has a complex flavour of sweet liquorice and honey underpinned by a satisfying bitterness.
- 6 small cooking apples, cored
- 125g (4½oz) demerara sugar
- 1.5 litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of rich, fruity ale (I used a mix of Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen)
- ½ grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp freshly grated or ground ginger
- Cinnamon sticks, to serve
Preheat the oven to 120C/250F/gas mark ½. Bake the cored apples on a lightly greased baking tray for about 1 hour, until soft and easy to peel.
Meanwhile, put the sugar into a large heavy-based saucepan and cover with a small amount of ale. Heat this gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Add the grated nutmeg, ginger and the rest of the ale. Stir and keep at a gentle simmer.
Cool the baked apples for about 10 minutes, then peel, reserving a few strips, and blend to a soft purée. Add this to the simmering ale and whisk thoroughly.
Leave to gently simmer for about 30 minutes. The frothy apples should rise to the surface. Ladle into sturdy glasses and serve with cinnamon-stick stirrers and a strip of peel.
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