06 January 2007

Twelfth Night

It denotes the Feast of the Epiphany, the first manifestation of Christ as God to a few chosen ones (the three magi). It also marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. In more pagan circles, it marks the end of the festivities begun on Halloween, during which misrule and disorder reigned until things were set aright on Twelfth Night. (Shakespeare's eponymously titled play involves all manner of mistaken identities and bizarre love triangles, which are happily resolved in the end. The play was performed on Epiphany in 1602.)

In England, it was customary on this day to make Lamb's Wool, a drink of cider or ale with roast apples and spices. An early recipe for Royal Lamb's Wool contained six beaten eggs; the froth of the whipped eggs and cider or ale mixed with the white pulp of floating crab apples, hence the name. It is the same as "wassail", of Christmas carol fame:
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.
Wassail descends from the Old Norse ves heil and from the Old English was hál; it was a greeting that wished the other to "be in good health" or to "be fortunate." You find the term in works from as early as Beowulf to Monmouth's History of the Kings of England to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. In any case, I set forth a modern recipe below. Enjoy!

1 gallon apple cider (add about 4oz sugar if it's very dry ) 12 small apples peeled and cored
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
16 fl oz whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Slowly heat 3/4 of the cider till warm but not boiling. Put remaining cider in another pan with the apples, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger and bring it to the boil. Simmer vigorously until the apples lose their shape and become ' frothy '. Combine the two liquids and pour into a heatproof bowl. Whip the cream with the salt and brown sugar until it peaks and spoon it onto the wassail, or add some cream to each drink as it's served. Drink Hot. (You can substitute dry white wine, light ale or stout for the cider if you wish.)

The toast is "WAS HAIL!" and the reply is "DRINK HAIL!"