My Citizens – Merry Christmas to you and yours from the Empyrean glory wherein TFD resides on high in culinary resplendence!
In honor of this holiday, today I will be sharing not one but TWO unique and nearly lost recipes from 400 years ago in England and the Island of Man, respectively!
First, this delicious and ancient drink with the unusual and evocative name of Lambswool!
As noted on oakden.co.uk:
This Lambswool, (or Lamb’s Wool) is one of the traditional drinks of the ‘Wassail’, (or Apple Howling) it is either so called after the light colour and frothy appearance of the drink on the surface, or, as Richard Cook in 1835 believes, it stems from being served at the ancient Celtic pagan festival of La mas ubal, that is, ‘The Day of the Apple Fruit’; and being pronounced lamasool, it was corrupted to Lambs Wool. The drink is made with a sweet-spiced hot ale (or cider) and roasted apples.
To fully understand the traditions of the wassail in summary we can look at Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, published in 1756, which says the ‘Wassail’ was: “a liquor made of apples, sugar, and ale; a drunken bout; a merry song”. Yet the word wassailderives from the much older, ‘Old English’ (Anglo-Saxon) words wæs (þu) hæl which means ‘be healthy’ or ‘be whole’ – both of which meanings survive in the modern English phrase to be, ‘hale and hearty’ – while the first written reference to wassailing dates back to a medieval 1486-93 AD record, for wassail payments made at the New Year, at St Mary De Pre Priory (in St Albans).
A traditional and authentic recipe given is from a 1633 source and a poem first published in 1648. The poem by Robert Herrick entitled, ‘Twelfe-Night’, or ‘King and Queene’ describes several practices seen at 12th Night. Other recipes for Lambswool Wassel, or Wassail, printed around this time are also very similar. However it should be noted that this very simple Lambswool ale recipe will probably have pre-dated this time period (1600s) considerably, perhaps going back to the pagan Anglo-Saxons and Celts, with honey replacing the sugar.
To Wassail: On twelfth-night, (either the new one on the 5th January or the old one on the 17th January) toast a thick slice of rustic bread and place it into the bottom of a communal bowl. Then pour in the prepared lambswool. Take the bowl out into your garden, field or orchard, with friends and family, carrying lighted torches aflame, and pots and pans to beat with wooden spoons and sticks, (with more toast to hang in the branches of the trees and more cups of lambswool to drink and splash around to bless the area).
Make noise and light, crying “wassail! wassail!” (or sing one of the many rhymes) to drive off the unwanted spirits of the old year – beat the trunks of the trees with the sticks and splash the trunks with a little Lamb’s Wool. After everyone present has taken a drink from the lambswool (from the communal wassail bowl) pour a little of the lambswool and soggy toast from the bowl into the ground around the roots of a tree and put further fresh pieces of toast, dipped in lambswool, into the branches as a token to the new spirits of the new year, and a nod to the old ways of doing things.
If wassailing the apple trees sing: “Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee, Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow, Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills, Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.” or … “Here stands a good apple tree, stand fast root, Every little twig bear an apple big, Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full, Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”l
Citizens, this recipe is several centuries old to begin with, but I’ve brought it back millenia further with the addition of mead, the ancient honey beer of the Celts, into the Middle Ages with a tiny bite of grains of paradise, a spice used in several Medieval drinks and into the realm of the French Celts with a bit of Calvados, the apple brandy from Normandy. Feel free to omit them if you prefer.
Again, Merry Christmas!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
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