Time to throw in the candy cane, your package will most definitely not arrive by December 25. Therefore, gas station gifts for all (Ring Pops! Slim Jims! cigarette cartons!), and liquor for you. Seasonal lushes know there’s a drink for every festivity: New Year’s bubbly; red, white, and blue Jell-O shots; bobbing for bourbon apples. Christmas is eggnog, predominantly enjoyed by people with fat knees, and I refuse to participate. Luckily, there is an alternative—wassail.
I have a vague memory of tiny paper cups of hot apple cider and wandering around listlessly with my elementary school classmates singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Batman and Robin Version)” to janitors and gym teachers. Or maybe that was an Ambien fever dream; I can never tell. Anyhow, real wassailing is way better. Every year in Carhampton, Somerset, center of the wassail world, English village people form a circle around the apple tree most convenient to the pub, hang pieces of cider-soaked toast from its branches and fire off shotgun rounds. Of course, when handling firearms in the winter it is important that one’s ale is warm. Traditional wassail punch is bubbling with brown sugar, baked apples, sherry, and brandy. Toasty enough to blunt grandma’s pain over receiving a gift box of multi-hued pens once again, no singing required.
Wassail 10 small apples 10 tsp brown sugar 2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg 1 tsp ground ginger 3 cloves 3 allspice berries 1 cinnamon stick 2 cups superfine sugar 1/2 cup water 6 eggs, separated 1 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 350˚. 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. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender. Combine sherry or Madeira, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, and water in a large saucepan and simmer on very low heat; do not allow to come to a boil. Beat egg yolks until light and lemon-colored; beat whites until stiff and fold into yolks. Strain the saucepan’s wine mixture and gradually add to the eggs, stirring constantly. Add the brandy. Pour into a punch bowl and float the apples on top. Serve in warmed mugs. Serves 10.
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