Filled with warm spices and citrus flavors, this is the BEST wassail for the holidays that you’ll be sipping on all winter!
What is wassail anyway?
Wassail. Weird name, I know, but don’t count it out just yet. Inevitably, when this festive drink comes up in conversation, I get asked one of two things:
- Is that the same as apple cider?
- What is THAT?
To which I answer, no it is not the same. But it IS a good starting point in describing it, as well as making it. Wassail is a spiced cider, and our family’s recipe also contains other juices, giving it a nice tartness – the kind that makes your jaw tingle just thinking about it.
Why make wassail for the holidays?
Our family traditionally has only made wassail during Christmas, for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those things you crave throughout the year but know it’s somehow sacrilegious to make outside of the holidays. So you wait. And then when the time rolls around again each year, you savor it more. When it’s simmering on the stove and filling your home with that spicy citrus aroma, you know – without a doubt – that it’s finally Christmas.
This recipe couldn’t be simpler, which is partly what makes it such a welcome addition to your Christmas lineup. One batch yields just over a gallon, so it’s a brilliant crowd pleaser (and likely one of the easiest things you could volunteer to bring to a party – easy to make, easy to travel with!). And you’ll get asked over and over how you made it and if you would share the recipe. Take that credit, girl – you made that! And pay it forward by sharing this recipe. Because what good is it to keep it to ourselves?
Tips for success:
A few notes on ingredients: I’m not picky about the kind of apple cider I use; I generally just use whatever I can find at the time. If there’s a somewhat local option I go for that, and if not, no big deal. Whatever you do, though, DO NOT substitute apple juice for that cider. If your first stop doesn’t have any cider, don’t think for a second that apple juice will suffice. It won’t. It doesn’t give you the depth of flavor like a cider does. Trust me. Go to four more stores if you have to, but don’t you leave with apple juice in your cart, ok?
You could certainly juice fresh oranges and lemons for this, but I’m pretty low maintenance in most areas of life (maybe don’t ask my family to verify this fact); as long as it doesn’t compromise taste or quality, I usually go for the easier option. Although I have no loyalty to the brand of orange and lemon juices I use, I am firm on the kind of cranberry juice that makes a good wassail. About as firm as I am about not using apple juice.
*You didn’t realize you were getting a real-deal-dose of Val and her sometimes rigid food rules, did you? We’re really getting to know each other now, aren’t we?*
Ok, back to cranberry juice: Knudsen’s Cranberry Juice. This is the one. It’s 100% cranberry juice, no added juices or sugars. You don’t want cran-apple or cran-grape or even cranberry cocktail. They’re all different than the real deal and far too sweet. Knudsen’s is nice and tart, even too tart for me to drink by itself, although my brother absolutely loves it! That tartness is the key to balancing everything out.
Side note: when I was little we used pineapple juice in this recipe. I don’t know how it happened, but one year we opted for cranberry instead, and we never went back.
Storing your wassail for the holidays:
You can store your wassail in the fridge, and it has the same shelf life as any other refrigerated juice. I have no idea what this is, simply because it’s always gone before it starts to do any fun fermenting in there. Ha!
I do have one confession when it comes to this recipe. Even after 42 years of either witnessing it being made or making it myself, I still have not found the ideal way to strain it and get it back in the cider jug. From cinnamon sticks and whole cloves to ground spices wrapped in cheesecloth to pitchers and funnels… No matter what I do, I end up with sticky counters and countless pots and utensils. (One year the boys and I took orders and made gallons upon gallons of wassail for a soccer fundraiser. I will never do it again. We don’t have enough pots or stove burners, and our floors and counters were sticky for days!)
Family dinners, parties with friends, neighbor or teacher gifts, however you’re celebrating this year, I promise this wassail will warm your tummy and home.
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The Best Wassail for the Holidays
- 1 gallon apple cider
- 1 cup Knudsen’s cranberry juice
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 tsp. Ground cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tsp. Whole cloves
- 2 tsp. Orange zest
- ⅔ cup brown sugar
- 4 Tb. lemon juice
- Over medium low heat, warm all ingredients until heated through, about 15 minutes. Strain spices and serve hot.