By Larry Sterner
Back in March, I wrote about the history of punch and how modern imbibers have rediscovered it. I’m revisiting this beverage category, this time focusing on the seasonal punches served around Christmas and New Year’s. There are many from all over the world but I will focus here on two heart and body warming tonics that will certainly bring you holiday cheer: wassail from Great Britain and glögg from Scandinavia.
Wassail is both a drink and a celebration. Back in 12th century England, Wassail (the celebration) was a way to herald the end of Christmas and bless the apple trees to bear fruit. The merriment also included dancing around the trees, banging pots and pans and plucking pieces of toast (yes, toast), from the boughs of the trees. The word wassail is a derivation of an old Anglo-Saxon word “waes-hael” meaning “to your health,” or more simply “cheers.”
The same-named drink is essentially a hot mulled cider or ale, sweetened with sugar, spiced, spiked with sherry or brandy and sometimes thickened with eggs. An essential ingredient is roasted apples from the aforementioned trees, which would quickly burst and fall apart. Also floating on the surface would be plenty of toast. The hot wassail is poured into a large carved wooden bowl which is passed around the crowd so that everyone can take a good mouthful, raise it above their head and shout “Wassail!” It is because of this celebration, we “raise a toast” when having drinks to this day. This ancient tradition also evolved into the practice of caroling or walking around drunk and singing Christmas songs.
The history of glögg dates back to the 1500s when a spiced wine called Hippocras was sold by merchants. Named for Hippocrates, this wine was thought to have healing influences over muscle injuries. King Gustav I of Sweden renamed the German version of mulled wine with spices to “glodgad vin” in the early 1600s. By the 1800s glögg became the shortened version and it means “to glow.”
Glögg is enjoyed across Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, but variations might include different types of liquor and flavor profiles. Swedish influence dictates that aquavit vodka be used, which adds a caraway flavor (the spice found in most rye breads). If you cannot find aquavit, Absolut vodka is a great substitute. Other liquors that can be used are Danish schnapps, whiskey, cognac, dark rum, or whiskey.
4 small apples
¼ cup unrefined cane sugar
1 medium orange
13 whole cloves
2 quarts hard apple cider
½ cup brandy
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
6 large eggs, separated
toast (optional, to serve with)
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Scoop out the core of the apples without fully penetrating the apple—a melon baller works well. Fill each with about a tablespoon of unrefined cane sugar. Place the apples in the baking sheet. Stud an orange with thirteen cloves and place it in the baking sheet. Bake the apples and orange together for 40 minutes.
- While the apples and orange bake, pour apple cider and brandy into a heavy-bottomed stock pot and warm over moderately low heat. Whisk in powdered ginger and grated nutmeg. Do not bring the wassail to a boil.
- Cut a small square of muslin or cheesecloth and place allspice and cinnamon into the square; tie with 100% cotton cooking twine and float this sachet of spices in the wassail as it warms. (Alternatively, you can drop the spices in the pot and strain them out later.)
- Beat egg yolks until light in color and set aside. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg yolks into whites, then temper the eggs by slowly pouring one-half cup wassail into the eggs. Remove the spice sachet from the wassail and pour in the tempered eggs. Transfer to a punch bowl. Float baked apples and orange in the wassail and serve by the mug, topping each much with a small slice of toast if desired.
2 bottles dry red wine
1⁄2 bottle port wine
1 cup aquavit or vodka
1⁄4 pound dried figs, sliced
1⁄4 pound raisins
2 oranges, zested in long strips and juiced
8 ounces light brown sugar
2 star anise pods
4 Indonesian long peppers
7 cardamom pods
3 cinnamon sticks
almonds (to serve)
raisins (to serve)
gingersnaps (to serve)
- Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring mixture to a simmer, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat and allow glögg to macerate for 2 hours. Strain when ready to use, reheat and serve with blanched almonds, raisins and ginger snaps on the side.
Read other December 2017 Newsletter articles