Originally we were planning to wassail the apple tree the evening after our Holy Supper, but frankly we were all utterly exhausted (not to mention stuffed to the gills with serious amounts of yummy food). So we planned to do it on Christmas Eve, but that kinda went by the wayside as I had a LOT of cooking to do for a gathering of the husbands family the following day (eighteen of the in-laws all in one place? Yes, folks, and I survived without any inappropriate comments, bursting into tears or wanting to turn people into toads, which we can count as a complete success!) so we delayed it until New Year’s Eve…. And failed. Hubby’s work, a tantrum melt-down by two over-excited, over-chocolated Witchlets caused Witch Mother to shelve plans and strop about the kitchen muttering obscenities under her breath.
So what day did we do it on? Twelfth Night. The day it’s traditionally done. The day I originally dismissed as “Oh yeah, that’s the proper day, but I know better and we are going to do it when I want.” (Slap me round the head with the ancestor stick; I should know better by now not to try and do things AT THE WRONG FRIGGIN’ TIME.)
Our apple tree was grown from a pip the year I conceived Witchlet One, and it’s never flowered. It’s about nine feet tall now, and is happy enough, but I would love to see it flower (and be even more delighted to see it fruit!) and that would be BIG MAGIC MOJO APPLES.
Traditions of Apple Wassail
"In Southern England a...set of customs...was grouped under the name of wassailing. They consisted, in essence, of wishing health to crops and animals much as people passing the wassail bowl wished it to each other. Most are well recorded in the early modern period, and they may quite easily have descended directly from pagan practices, although it is also possible that they developed outwards from the domestic wassail. The most widespread, famous, and enduring concerned fruit trees. It is first mentioned at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time it was already in part the preserve of groups of young men who went between orchards performing the rite for a reward. Robert Herrick, almost certainly writing about Devon and in the 1630s, spoke of 'wassailing' the fruit-bearing trees in order to assure good yields, and in the 1660s and 1670s a Sussex clergyman gave money to boys who came to 'howl' his orchard (being the enduring local term). John Aubrey, describing West Country customs in the same period, said that on Twelfth Eve men 'go with their wassel-bowl into the orchard and go about the trees to bless them, and put a piece of toast upon the roots, in order to it.'" - From The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
I baked soda bread for toasting, and then I made Lamb’s Wool, a traditional drink to toast the orchard trees with:
6 small apples, cored (I used British Cox apples)
1 nutmeg freshly grated (I only used about half a nutmeg, which seemed plenty)
1 tsp ground ginger
150g brown sugar
Preheat the oven 120 deg C.
Prepare the apples in advance: time it so they are ready when you want to put them into the lambswool to serve.
Core the 6 apples fully, getting rid of the pips. Lightly grease the baking tray. Place the apples on the baking tray about 6cm (2 inches) apart – they will swell up a little. Bake the apples at 120 deg C for about an hour or so until they become soft and pulpy and the skins are easy to peel away.
Make the Lamb’s wool:
In a large thick bottomed saucepan (which is quite tall to avoid splashes when whisking) add the sugar. Cover the sugar in a small amount of the ale (or cider) and heat gently. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Then add in the ground ginger and grate in the whole (or half, in my case!) of the nutmeg. Stir, and keeping the pan on a gentle simmer, slowly add in all the rest of the ale (or cider). Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle heat as you deal with the apples.
Take the baked apples out of the oven to cool slightly for 10 minutes – they should now be soft and pulpy.
Break open the apples and scoop out the baked flesh into a bowl, discarding the skin. Then take a fork and mash this apple pulp up, while it is still warm, into a smooth purée with no lumps. Add the apple puree into the ale (or cider) lamb’s wool, mixing it in with a whisk.
Let the saucepan continue to warm everything through for thirty minutes, on a very gentle heat, until ready to drink. When warmed through use the whisk again for a couple of minutes to briskly froth the drink up and mix everything together. The apple will float to the surface, and depending on how much you have whisked it, the more it looks like lamb’s wool.
I will stop and apologise here: I had some brilliant pictures of this. Fantastic ones. I transferred them to a folder on the damn ‘puter, before deleting them from the camera. I know I did. SO WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY NOW? HMMM?
Any way, I served up the Lamb’s Wool in mugs for hubby and I, and Witchlet Two got a TINY little bit watered down with apple juice. Witchlet One took a look, and proclaimed his verdict - “Yuck.”
We went outside with our steaming mugs, and platefuls of the toasted soda bread (which Witchlet Two was already tucking into, she can’t resist a bit of toast). Out came the tambourines, the drums, the shakers and a couple of sticks, and we all yelled and made noise by the tree, shouting out any bad spirits. (By the second mug of Lamb’s Wool, I kinda got into it.) The Witchlets were in their element; after a brief glance at each other (“Mummy is ASKING us to yell, make noise and hit something? Wow!”) they joined in with gusto.
We lifted them up in our arms so they could spear slices of toast soaked in Lamb’s Wool on the tree branches. Finally I recited:
Apple tree, stand fast root, every little twig bear fruit
Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full, Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”
It took a bit of time to herd two extraordinarily excited Witchlets back inside, but the promise of hot chocolate with straws AND chocolate sprinkles finally did the trick.
And so ends the Midwinter Magic. Magic it has definitely been, and it’s something that we will do every year. It added so much to the festive season for us as a family, not just for me, the Witch. And perhaps, twenty or thirty years from now, maybe the Witchlets might be doing something similar with their babes. (And I’ll be sat having a quiet cackle with the Ancestors in the corner, hogging the last of the Lamb’s Wool.)