First of all, a very Merry Happy Hour Christmas to all of you. It’s been a grand year, and we have managed to cover a wide variety of topics, but all joined by the common theme of adult beverages. Hopefully, I've been able to spread some good cheer and answer a few questions about the sometimes complex but always pleasurable world of distilled and fermented liquids.
If I have not been able to clarify a mystery or two, at least I hope the columns have been entertaining in a slightly less-than-moronic way. It’s been my privilege to have you as a loyal, or at least somewhat regular, reader of these missives.
In trying to figure out how to celebrate the holidays in a sociable and satisfying way, I stumbled across stories about the "Twelve Days of Christmas" celebration of Woodstock, N.Y. Their approach is quite a tribute to their community, but it is not entirely correct.
It seems many Americans are confused about when the Twelve Days of Christmas take place. They want to put the 12-day period of time before the big day of December 25. And those of us New Orleanians who are accustomed to the sometimes baffling variances of the Gregorian Calendar, as well as the proper way to celebrate most holidays, know full well that the Twelve Days of Christmas fall after Christmas Day, the Twelfth Day being January 6, Feast Day of the Epiphany, and first day of the Carnival Season. Tell that to your Lords-a-Leaping.
I guess the folks of Woodstock can be forgiven, considering how their pretty community came to be known to all of our simultaneously blown minds, and the fame was not because of the Twelve Days celebration.
Anyway, let’s go with a slightly different celebration diatribe and, given that the Twelve Days of Christmas is an English poem later set to music, we should pay homage with a true English-might-also-be-French Holiday beverage: wassail.
The term “wassail” is actually an Old English beverage-drinking toast, waes hael –“be you healthy”– and intended to also confer a wish for a good apple harvest the following year. The healthy wishes were more for the apple trees than the imbiber.
It’s an easy step from there to the reason for the base liquid of the drink, apple cider. Every village in the south of England had its own style of wassail, and that is how so many varied recipes came down to us. Today’s wassail can also include wines, distilled spirits, fruit juices and ales. The spice concoctions in wassail are also from a wide variety of aromatics and flavor-enhancers but the usual are cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg and ginger.
It really is a fun bowl beverage that can be shared with family and friends and it's perfect for cooler weather. While wassail may not be a good food pairing, it is cockle-warming enjoyed by itself, or with dessert-type sweet fruit-based baked items, like apple pie, cherry tarts and maybe even beignets. Chocolate is not an ideal pairing, but could work depending on the sweetness level of the chocolate.
Here is a terrific wassail recipe courtesy of Alton Brown from the Food Network, first published in 2009. Takes about an hour to prepare and it makes 3 quarts, which in New Orleans is known as a very good start.
6 small Fuji apples, cored
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
72 ounces ale
750 ml Madeira
10 whole cloves
10 whole allspice berries
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Put the apples into an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish. Spoon the brown sugar into the center of each apple, dividing the sugar evenly among them. Pour the water into the bottom of the dish and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
Pour the ale and Madeira into a large slow cooker. Put the cloves, allspice and cinnamon into a small muslin bag or cheesecloth, tied with kitchen twine, and add to the slow cooker along with the ginger and nutmeg. Set the slow cooker to medium heat and bring the mixture to at least 120 degrees F. Do not boil.
Add the egg whites to a medium bowl and using a hand mixer, beat until stiff peaks form. Put the egg yolks into a separate bowl and beat until lightened in color and frothy, approximately 2 minutes. Add the egg whites to the yolks and using the hand mixer, beat, just until combined. Slowly add 4 to 6 ounces of the alcohol mixture from the slow cooker to the egg mixture, beating with the hand mixer on low speed. Return this mixture to the slow cooker and whisk to combine.
Add the apples and the liquid from the baking dish to the wassail and stir to combine. Ladle into cups and serve.
Here’s another wassail recipe which takes advantage of slow cooking so you can do other things (wrap my present?) while the ingredients are coming together with heat. This one is from allrecipes.com and yields 12 servings.
2 quarts apple cider
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
12 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground nutmeg
In a slow-cooker or a large pot over low heat, combine apple cider, orange juice and lemon juice. Season with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. If using a slow cooker, allow to simmer all day (8 hours). Serve hot.
All of us here at the Happy Hour Beverage Institute and Shrimp Cleaning Superstore wish you and yours the grandest wishes for the entire holiday season.
You can reach Tim by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.