The beginning of November is the beginning of a season of plenty. Or at least that’s how it always seemed growing up.
As a kid, the entrance of winter brought with it plenty of beautifully gray, cold mornings, fires in the grate when we woke up, and plenty of family from near and far drifting in and out of the house like a familiar carousel. It was never plenty in the form of excess mind you — mom strictly saw to that. But it was plenty, all the same. Plenty of walks through the woods, plenty of excitement over the first snowfall, of running to the store to get the sugar or cream mom needed for an early winter recipe. And of course, my favorite: Plenty of sticky, rich, carbohydrate-stuffed suppers, desserts, and leftovers.
One of the finest parts of those sweet, decadent meals were the spiced November drinks always served alongside them. Carafes, kettles, and thermoses of hot chocolates, coffees, or ciders. And always plenty to go around.
In particular, I remember one cider making its way from home to home and table to table one November, starting when we found a post-it note in the back of my grandmother’s recipe book. The small square of blue paper with a few neatly written instructions on the back described the most delicious sounding cider we had ever heard of—“Wassail”.
In layman’s terms, Wassail is an apple cider with a big imagination.
Dating all the way back to medieval apple harvests, and stemming from the Old English “was hál” (meaning, “be healthful”), Wassail is now the South Eastern mountain region’s best kept cider recipe. With notes of juniper, cinnamon, and cloves infused into a sweet juice blend. If you like apple cider, I can promise you that you’ve just found your new favorite fireside-sitting, leaf- crunching, snow-falling, cozy-living drink (There’s even an adult version for holiday parties — stay tuned!). So let’s get started.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED*:
6 cups apple cider
1 cup orange juice
2 oz of fresh ginger (sliced)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon coriander seed
6 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 star anise pods
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1/4 cup brown sugar
splash of ginger ale
1/3 cup scotch
1/3 cup cranberry juice
HOW TO MAKE WASSAIL
First, start a pot on the stove with your apple cider and orange juice. Let it come to a boil, drop in your cinnamon sticks, and stir in your allspice.
While the pot is rising in temperature, slice your apples cross-wise about 1/8 inch thick, and divide your orange into slices. Next, gather the rest of your spices.
In a mortar, place your cardamom pods, coriander seed, cloves, and juniper berries. Crush them until they mix.
Once the pot is boiling, add your apples, orange slices, ginger slices, and brown sugar. Stir it all together, turning the heat down to a simmer. Then, add your spice mixture from your mortar. Lastly, add your star anise pods.
Let sit at a high simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally.
Once it’s finished simmering, scoop out the apples, oranges, and ginger with a spoon and discard. Use a kettle strainer to strain the rest of the spices out, and let cool.
For the adult version that I always serve at Christmas, add the cranberry juice to the pot at the beginning of the cook with your other juices. Once the entire recipe is finished, add your scotch and a splash of ginger ale right before serving!
From my grandma’s blue sticky note all the way to you, I wish you your own version of plenty this November. Hopefully, it is made all the sweeter with the best spiced Wassail cider there is.
I’d love to hear about your first time making Wassail, or maybe to peruse one of your own treasured recipes. You can find me on instagram at @lydiacockrell_, or connect with me through my website lydiacockrell.com.