So today is Twelfth Night and I hope you’ve taken down your decorations? Bad luck not to have done, according to many. I took mine down last night and boy, does my house look empty now.
Just down the road from me is Merton Abbey Mills, which is a cool collection of little art and craft shops. Every weekend there is a market selling alternative gifts and there are also a number of little cafes and restaurants to sate your hunger. If you don’t know what to get someone as a gift, go here, I guarantee you’ll find something! Also based there is the amazing Wheelhouse Pottery, with the only potter’s wheel run directly from water power in the UK. Go and take a look – you can see the mill wheel going around, powered by the River Wandle and there is a really interesting little exhibition on the local history of the area. They have a great selection of hand-thrown home-ware objects and also a fab box of ‘oddments’ at £3 each – I defy you to leave without having bought something!
My object of desire at my last visit was a four-handled wassail mug to help me celebrate Twelfth Night. Wassail is an ale/cider based hot punch that used to be drunk throughout the Christmas period but particularly on Twelfth Night. Wassailing is an ancient English tradition performed predominantly in the south, to ensure a good crop of cider apples the following year. The word ‘wassail’ comes from ‘Waes Hail’, which is is a contraction of the Middle English phrase wæs hæl, meaning literally ‘good health’.
There are many different Wassail ceremonies but most of them involve drinking and dancing around the largest or oldest apple tree in the orchard, before a Wassail Queen is lifted into the tree to place cider soaked toast in the branches, thus ensuring a good apple harvest. There are various versions of the Wassail song but I like this one:
Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.
Here is the Wassail recipe that I used, but there are many more online, including some alcohol free ones if that is more your thing. It smelt heavenly and tasted amazing.
A Traditional Shropshire Wassail Recipe – for hardened Wassailers!
Makes enough for 15-20 people so scale down if you have fewer!
10 very small apples
1 large orange stuck with whole cloves
10 teaspoons brown sugar
2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 allspice berries
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups castor sugar
12 to 20 pints of cider according to the number of guests
1 cup (or as much as you like) brandy
Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.
Insert cloves into the orange about 1/2″ apart.
Bake the orange with the apples in a 350° oven.
After about 30 minutes, remove the orange and puncture it in several places with a fork or an ice pick.
Combine the sherry or Madeira, cider, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar, apple and orange juice and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly without letting the mixture come to a boil.
Leave on very low heat.
Strain the wine mixture and add the brandy.
Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples and orange on top and ladle hot into punch cups.