History and Recipe For Old English Wassail | 1863

Wassail. —

Would you kindly give me the old recipe for wassail? I want to revive it in my family this year, but want a good old English recipe. Is it still made in Norfolk? Is their recipe the same as the old? A. W. Taylor.

The ingredients of the earlier Wassail Bowl, it would seem, were not the same as those of a later period. In Wharton’s Amjlia Sacra, i. 164, is a curious account of a visit of King Edgar to the Abbey of Abingdon. It is there said that “the king was glad, and commanded that hydromel [metheglin] should be abundantly supplied for the visitors to drink.

What followed? The attendants iln-.v the liquor all day in full sufficiency for the guests; but the liquor itself could not be exhausted from the vessel, except a hundbreath, though the Northanhumbri mode merry, and at night went home jolly!”

Leaving the miraculous part of the story out of the question, it appears (says Dr. Milner) that this was a true Wassailing bout, and that metheglin was the beverage made use of on the occasion (Arducologia, xi. 421.) The melheglin, or mend, is a fermented liquor, of some potency, made from honey. Hence from a metheglin jollification of thirty days after a wedding comes the expression so familiar to the friends of a newly-married couple—the Honeymoon.

In later times, however, the composition of the Wassail Bowl was ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and rousted crabs or apples, which has also received the more comfortable name of Lamb’s Wool.

The contents of the bowl are specified in the first verse of “The Wassaillera” Song,” siill sung on New Year’s Eve in Gloucestershire: —


“Wassail! Wassail  all over the town

Our toast is white, our ale is brown;

Our bowl is made of maplin tree,

We be good fellows all—I drink to thee.”

In that pleasant brochure. Cups and their Customs, occurs the following receipt 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 odd four glasses of sherry and two quarts more of beer, with three slices of lemon; add some sugar, if required, and serve it with three slices of toasted bread floating in it.”

Source: Notes and queries, 1863

Index: Historic Holiday Recipes & Menu Suggestions

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