Monday, January 5, 2009

Wassail, Wassail the new year

Chas over at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek shared this link with me from the Hereford Times on January wassailing customs. The article comments on the growing popularity of cider helping to keep this ancient custom alive. Apple growing the world over is enjoying increasing interest because of cider-based events like Cider Days and even the humble little Harvest Moon festival I organized at Brushwood Folklore Center this past autumn, where we pressed fresh cider from the wild apples that grow abundantly all over the property.

England of course has a rich history of customs celebrating harvest and propitiating nature spirits of fields and orchards. I've tasted some wonderful regional ciders in England, from the sweet pear cider made by Brothers in Shepton Mallet (near Glastonbury) to the sublime, dry Kingfisher made in Norfolk, and the excellent Special Reserve cider made by Samuel Smith's and served on tap at the Chandos Pub in London's Trafalgar Square. May American cider brewers one day approach England's diversity and quality of cider.

I remember wassailing the orchard trees out at Mike and Penny Novak's farm one Yule. It's a lovely tradition. I also enjoy the songs associated with wassailing sun during Yuletide. The Gloucestershuire Wassail describes the blessing of livestock with cups of cider tossed in their faces:

"And here is to Cherry and to his right cheek; May Yule bring our master a good piece of beef!" The winter solstice as it was observed during the agrarian era was a time to share food abundantly with all in the community; singing by peasants was rewarded with comestibles from the "big house" during the days of feudal farming.

I served hot mulled cider at our Yuletide Open House this past weekend. A number of people who arrived, having come in from the cold, said no when asked if they wanted a drink, but when I mentioned there was hot cider on the stove they all changed their minds immediately!

Wassail, wassail, 2009. We drink to thee.


Luna said...

At the Yule celebration in my area, I served up wassail with fresh whipped cream -- it was delectable.

Peg said...

Yum, that sounds great! I make it with hot spiced cider and Guinness...with fruit floating in it.