Wassail: A cup of cheer for the upcoming holiday parties

Take it and Make it: Maine Style

Sun, 12/03/2023 - 6:15pm

    The comforting aroma of hot cider, ginger, and cinnamon fills the kitchen when you make the ancient mulled drink wassail, but did you know that the drink itself dates back to pre-Christian times?

    Farmers in England would use the drink to bless apple trees for a bountiful harvest for the next season and to ward off evil spirits.

    The word originated from Middle English “wæs hæil,” or  “washayl,”  meaning "a toast to someone's health” similar to the way we raise a glass to toast someone with the word “cheers!” 

    As a verb, the word took on even more energy as “wassailing” meant to take a sip from a communal bowl filled with warm spiced cider and go house to house  and carol to one’s neighbors with good wishes and greetings.

    Of course, a bit of brandy in the recipe probably aided with that.

    In any case, making wassail and going wassailing has its roots in the holidays, after the harvest is through and early winter is upon us.

    According to the modern pagan movement, Arcane Alchemy, wassail has literary and social significance as well, serving as a way to break down class barriers—even for just one night. 

    With a slew of holiday parties coming up this month, wassail is a delight to simmer on your stovetop at home when the wood stove is burning and the music is on.

    It’s so easy to make, it would even serve as an interesting appetizer to a potluck holiday party.

    I got all of the ingredients locally in Belfast, starting with an organic apple and spices at Belfast Co-op.

    The Co-op, in case you didn’t know, has an amazing array of every kind of spice you can want, sold by weight.

    A few whole cinnamon sticks and about 20 whole cloves only cost $2.

    The rest of the ingredients were easily found at Hannaford Supermarket, including the Maine-made Ricker Hill cider.


    For two people For a group
    • 1 apple
    • 3 cups apple cider
    • 3/4 cups orange juice
    • 1/2 lemon juice
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • 15 whole cloves
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
    • 2 apples
    • 8 cups apple cider
    • 2 cups orange juice
    • 1/3 cup lemon juice
    • 4 cinnamon sticks
    • 15 whole cloves
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

    First, stick cloves all around the apple.

    Combine all of the ingredients, place the apple in the middle, and simmer on the stove for 30 minutes.

    Serve warm with a slice of lemon or orange and an extra cinnamon stick.

    This can be alcoholic with brandy or rum or not.

    I made two cups with two shots of rum.

    If you really want to go full-on Maine wassail, make it with Allen’s Coffee Brandy, then haul the warmed drink around in a flask and go sing some raucous songs to the trees and your neighbors.

    Kay Stephens is a home cook with a penchant for recipes and a reporter for Penobscot Bay Pilot. Her dishes are decent enough, but not Instagram-worthy.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com