Wassail Cup

- Wassailling the Apple Tree

Wassailing apple trees seems to have died out in this part of Britain although it was first mentioned at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585. It is still celebrated on Twelfth Night in some parts of Devon and Somerset . Our long-time Editor, David Bage, and I were in agreement that Twelfth Night is 5th January, although many say it falls on the 6th - although we seem to be in the minority. Our thinking is that Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas, therefore the twelfth day must be 5th January. The 6th January is the first day of Epiphany. Anyway, I digress.

The tradition was to “wassail” the apple trees to ensure a good crop (from the old English greeting ‘wes hal’, meaning “good health” or “be whole”). The owner of the orchard would gather with the labourers and their families around one of the best fruit bearing trees in the orchard. Muskets were fired through the uppermost branches of the tree and the womenfolk would run around the tree banging on pots and pans. The aim was to wake the tree spirit and drive off the demons. Some “Wassail Cup” was then poured onto the roots of the tree. A piece of toast soaked in the liquid would then be placed in a fork of the tree whilst all made a toast to the tree. During all this the “wassail chant” would be sung:

Oh apple tree we honour thee
In hope that you will bear
The blessed fruit of Avalon
At harvest time each year.

Your blossom heralds Springtime
Your leaf brings Summer shade.
Let Samhain’s harvest cup be filled
With cider freshly made.

Each golden apple you bring forth
A gift to Aphrodite
Has at its heart a pentacle,
The symbol of her mystery.

When Winter’s cold envelops you
In wind and rain and hail
Then we’ll return each year to bring
Our grateful thank WASSAIL!

The following recipe for Wassail Cup makes a pleasant alternative to mulled wine over the festive period. It is very pleasant and warming but seems to have a “delayed action” kick - Sounds like a tradition worth reviving!


3 small red apples Thin strip of lemon rind
3 tablespoons soft brown sugar ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teacup brown ale ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 pts (1.25l) brown ale ¼ teaspoon ginger
½ pt (150ml) sweet sherry Slices of brown toast


  1. Slit skin round centre of apples with a sharp knife. Put in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with the soft brown sugar and ½ teacup of brown ale.
  2. Bake at 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 for 40 mins
  3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the remaining brown ale, sweet sherry, spices and lemon rind. Simmer for 5 mins.
  4. Add the baked apples and pour in the sugar and ale mixture from the baking dish (you can use additional sugar if you prefer it sweeter).
  5. Pour in to a large bowl and float the toast on top. Serve piping hot.