Sunday, December 1, 2019

Wassail Bowl with Ambrose Heath’s Good Drinks

I was in two minds about doing anything drink related here this December, but then I went to church this morning. It seemed like a good way to mark the beginning of advent, and a Bishop was visiting my parish church, he officially blessed the new toilets they’ve had installed which was more than I had expected. When he had done with the toilets he gave a sermon which included a 19th century recipe for a wassail or loving cup.

The Bishop’s recipe was something like a mulled wine with added egg. I’d very much like to know his 19th century source because none of my books have anything like it under either wassail or loving cup - but my collection is by no means extensive - and I’m always interested to learn more.

Wassailing falls into two different winter traditions, one (which seems to be having a bit of a comeback) is to bless apple trees in the hope of a good cider harvest the following year and takes place around twelfth night. The other is a house visiting wassail where people go door to door singing, and offering a drink from the wassail bowl in return for presents.

Regardless of which tradition appeals most I’m a big fan of warm drinks at this time of year and don’t think we make nearly enough of them. I’m also a big fan of alternatives to Mulled wine, and an even bigger fan of Ambrose Heath.

Persephone Books have reprinted a couple of his titles, and so have Faber & Faber. All make for delightful reading, and not for the first time I’m going to laud them as potential presents. Anybody who’s followed this blog for a while will know how much I love ‘Good Drinks’ though, and how often I refer to it for recipes.

The Faber & Faber edition is a handsome hardback, the recipes mostly at the practical end of vintage. There’s something for more or less every occasion in it, and it includes a wassail. This one is ale based and asks for 2 pints (it asks for a quart, conversion tables tell me that’s 2 pints, I’m taking it on trust) of hot ale to which you add a quarter of an ounce each of grated nutmeg, powdered ginger, and cinnamon. Then add half a bottle of Sherry (I’d use an oloroso or amontillado) two slices of toast, the juice and peel of a lemon, and two baked apples. Then sweeten the whole lot to taste.

I haven’t actually tried this, though I did once make Lamb’s Wool which is also ale based, but with a lot more apple and no toast or Sherry, it was excellent. This year it will be the wassail as soon as I’m back near an Aga (perfect for casually baking a couple of apples and not worrying about having an almost empty oven).


  1. Two pints are definitely a quart in old measurements though it is somewhat different in the USA where their pints are only sixteen ounces as opposed to ours at 20 ounces.

    I like the tradition of Wasailing the apple trees with cider and toast.