Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Once and Future King with 'Lambswool'

I'm beginning to feel like I'm in a one woman mission to mull things this year (it's not something I'd thought of as habit forming before now, but so it is). Back in August I tried making a Dog's Nose (a mix of stout and gin) which I had assumed would be disgusting. It was not, and since then I've been more open minded about the idea of hot beer based drinks.

Yesterday's Wassail bowl shouldn't really be scaled down, the whole idea of it is that it's for sharing - and if I'm honest I'm still not convinced by the toast element, it sounds messy. Whilst I was reading about Wassail though, I saw a few references to Lambswool, and I have various recipes for that too. It's a mix of ale and apples, which sounded about as appealing as the Dog's Nose - but I was wrong about that so...

Lambswool seems to be another version of Wassail bowl, and was traditionally drunk on 12th night, Regula Ysewijn has written an excellent piece about it Here. My guess is that it's origins are very old indeed, and I particularly like the mix of everyday ingredients (ale, and the last of the autumns apples) with the more luxurious sugar, ground ginger, and nutmeg.

All those ingredients are common place today, but the need to bake the apples first and the time that takes, still makes this a relative luxury in a busy life. My recipe is adapted from the one in Ambrose Heath's (increasingly indispensable) 'Good Drinks' and has been shrunk to make just enough for 2.

Core 3 apples, (we used 3 Braeburn sized eating apples that weren't to sweet, left over from a bag a friend gave me in the autumn, they were going a bit soft and on the verge of being thrown out - but that fits with the idea of using up the last of the fruit before it goes off that Ysewijn talks about), slit round the middle and bake in an oven until good and soft. Scrape the apple out of its skins and purée it, stick it into a pan. Add a bottle of ale (I don't think you need to be too specific about sort) and season with grated nutmeg, and ground ginger. Sweeten with sugar to taste and gently warm it, giving it a good stir for the flavours to blend. Check to see if you need more sugar or spice, and then serve. It's excellent. The trouble is minimal, but waiting for the apples means you can't knock it up in 5 minutes, unless you happen to have some apple sauce lying around.

Such an old drink feels like it wants something that nods to its history. I looked at The Mabinogion and  Le Morte Darthur  (The Dark is Rising' has left me wanting to read something Celtic or Arthurian or I might have followed a different route, it's also a drink that speaks of the countryside, apple orchards, and the changing seasons). I thought about Beowulf (wrong mood altogether) and remembered that I still haven't got a copy of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' (either the Simon Armitage, or Bernard O'Donoghue, versions - a terrible oversight). None felt quite right, and then I remembered T. H. White's 'The Once and Future King' which did. It also feels like a good choice to be reading on midwinters day - so that's what I'm off to do.


  1. I'm tempted! I do wonder whether a malty ale would suit better than a hoppy one though - or would that be too much, and better for the hoppiness to come through. (I should shut up and give it a go!)

  2. I think you're probably right about more malt than hops, the beer I used was hoppy, which was fine but if I been buying one specially it would have been maltier. It will partly be down to personal taste though, and tweaking till you get it just right for you. Happy Christmas!