Wassailing was once a part of Christmas and New Year celebrations but is practised little these days. Although the practice of heating alcohol continues in the drinking of mulled wine. Wassail comes from the words waes heal meaning good health. It was most closely associated with cider districts where the farmers once wassailed, wished good health to their apple trees in the hopes of waking tree spirits so they would produce a good crop of apples. This often took place on Twelfth Night. In Sussex there were examples of bees being wassailed. The term also covered those who would take steaming bowls of hot cider punch door to door singing carols or wassailing songs.
Our cookbook from the 1700s gives the following recipe for mulling ale.
“Take a pint of good strong ale, put it into a saucepan, with three or four cloves, nutmeg and sugar to your taste, set it over the fire, when it boils take it off to cool, beat the yolks of four eggs very well, and mix them with with a little cold ale, then put it in your warm ale, and our it in and out of your pan several times, then set it over a slow fire and heat it a little, then take it off again and heat it two or three times till it is quite hot, then serve it up with dry toast.”
Of course people soon devloped mullers which would be easier to use than a saucepan. See below for one from our collection.