By Jess Clevenger – I recently came across a story about apple orchard wassailing and was instantly intrigued to learn more. I love hearing stories about traditions and customs of past generations and places, especially those associated with apple orchards. Apple orchard wassailing seemingly originated in cider-producing areas of England. Sometime in the winter months, most often in mid-January, a group of people would travel from orchard to orchard with their wassail punch. Traditional wassails would include singing, pot-banging, dancing, and believe it or not, placing a wassail-soaked piece of bread in the tree. The point of it all was to ensure a good harvest for the upcoming season.
After reading about wassailing, I knew that I wanted to make the punch, and hold my own interpretation of a wassail this winter. Luckily, I found a recipe in the Inns of the Gettysburg Area‘s cookbook, from Battlefield Bed & Breakfast. The recipe combines apple cider and sherry with cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg and lemon. The punch is served warm in mugs, with brown sugar roasted apples. I made the punch, poured it into a thermos and headed to the orchard with my boyfriend, who is an Adams County apple farmer. We made our way through the snowy rows of the orchard and we poured our wassail punch into mugs. We skipped the singing and dancing, but we did give a toast to the trees, our own little way to honor them and all that they provide us and our entire community. I think it’s a tradition we will continue year after year.
We are so lucky in Adams County to be surrounded by apple orchards and to have access to the fruits produced in those orchards all year long. Several of our fruit markets – Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market and Sandoe’s Fruit Market, both in Biglerville, are open year round and carry local apples as long into the winter as they are able to.
I hope you give this wassail punch a try and whether you enjoy it outside or in the warmth and comfort of your home, give a little toast to the orchards, the trees and the workers who bring us delicious apples year after year!
From the Inns of the Gettysburg Area Cookbook, courtesy of Battlefield Bed & Breakfast
5 crispy apples
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 cups apple cider
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups medium or sweet Sherry
4 slices lemon
Core apples and arrange in a baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes or until tender. This step can be ahead. At serving time, simmer cider with nutmeg, cinnamon, Sherry, sugar and lemon slices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover pot and let stand over very low heat for 3 minutes. Remove lemon slices. Quarter and warm the baked apples. Pour cider mix into a heat-proof bowl and garnish with baked apples. Alternatively, put apple quarters in mugs and pour the wassail over the baked apples. Makes 12-20 servings.
Note: For a non-alcoholic version, substitute more apple cider for the sherry.
About the Author
As an Adams County transplant, Jess is continually exploring the area; slowly but surely becoming a local. When not working at Destination Gettysburg, you can find Jess spending time with her family, hiking, cooking and taking care of her Aspers, Pa. home.