Winter warming wassail

A warming wassail will bring some mid-January cheer.

“Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too,” goes a traditional Yuletide song. It is not a carol but rather the basis for a mediaeval (1600s at least) January ritual for farmhands to go a-wassailing – meaning to go round the houses to ask for, demand even, food and drink gifts from their gentry landowners in return for being compliant and industrious workers in the coming year.

Understanding this makes sense of another wassail song, “We wish you a merry Christmas…” and then “Bring us some figgy pudding…” and “We won’t go until we get some…” Something like a New Year’s version of Hallowe’en trick or treating.

The traditional date to ‘go a-wassailing’ is Twelfth Night, 6 January, but wassailing enthusiasts prefer ‘Olde Twelvey Night’, 17 January, which would have been the correct date before the introduction of today’s Gregorian calendar in 1752. So a great excuse for a winter party at home or the sailing club.


The ‘wassail’ itself is the liquid contents of a punch bowl from which the landlord filled the peasants’ drinking mugs. It would have been a hearty combination of hot ale, apple chunks, spices and mead.

Alcoholic enough to create good humour but not so strong as to encourage fighting or falling over. The food would have been pork chunks or pie or sausages, English cheese and farmhouse bread.

Hot ale is not suitable these days, but a rustic artisanal mulled cider would do nicely with any kind of pork and/or apples.

For mulled cider wassail, pour two litres of dry cider (a basic brand such as Sainsbury’s Original for just £4, five per cent abv) into a large saucepan, add a quarter of a pint of orange juice, a chopped lemon and the grated zest of an orange which is then sliced into the brew, four cinnamon sticks (or a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon) and a teaspoon of cloves.

That is the basic. For a super punch, add a large wine glass measure of dark sherry or spiced rum – Sailor Jerry’s dark spiced rum £20 for 70cl at 40 per cent or Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Gold £17 a litre at 35 per cent, both at Sainsbury’s and other mainstream supermarkets.

Warm only – do not boil – and serve garnished with a slice of raw apple and a few sultanas. It is worth suffering the winter weather for.

Alternatively you can buy ready mulled red wine, which can be warmed and served as is or customised with a little cinnamon and cloves.

Sainsbury’s have a German mulled wine, £4.50 for 75cl at 11 per cent, which is a warm rich red wine with citrus fruit flavours combined with cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. Or there is one made in the UK from imported wine for £3 a bottle at eight per cent.

An easy way to make your own is to choose a bargain-priced red and buy the spices as pre-packed mulled wine sachets. Morrison’s have a Schwartz pack for just £1.42. Add one teaspoon of brown sugar per bottle and slices of orange and lemon, then warm it up in a saucepan and your wine wassail is ready for the party.


The wassailing song

These words should now make more sense!


Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,

Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy new year,

And God send you a happy new year.


Bring us out a table and spread it with a cloth,

Bring us out a cheese and some of your Christmas loaf.

Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy new year,

And God send you a happy new year.


London Boat Show bar choices

More bars choices are planned for this year’s new format London Boat Show (10 – 14 January). Signature bars are back again, the Black & White bar (once the Guinness bar) and a champagne bar. Plus there is a new Yachtsman’s Bar and a Lock & Waterside pub at the heart of the canals and waterways section of the show. Good places, we hope, to make plans for a happy new boating or sailing year.