Thanksgiving may be over, but as we all know, the revelry has only just begun. The holidays are approaching, the weather is cooler, and after a long day of gift shopping, nothing sounds better than curling up in front of the fire with a good book and a warm beverage. A cup of tea is always nice, but perhaps you participated in Small Business Saturday and need something a bit stronger. Or you might be hosting a party and aren’t sure what drink to serve. In any case, we’ve got you covered.
Our book with the Two Thirsty Gardeners, Brew It Yourself, shows you how to brew your own cider, make a mean hot toddy, and much more. If you’re not already familiar, the Two Thirsty Gardeners are Nick Moyle and Richard Hood, two friends who run the popular digging and swigging website Two Thirsty Gardeners.
The Two Thirsty Gardeners show that brewing your own delicious alcoholic drinks can be surprisingly quick and easy. Taking their two great loves—alcohol and gardening—Nick and Rich provide home brewing recipes to inspire you to turn a surplus harvest, a visit to a fruit farm, or a delivery from the supermarket into a festive array of drinks.
The fermentation process for cider can take up to six months and the maturation about four. Haven’t already gotten started? Whether the cider is homemade or store bought; we won’t tell. If you’re looking for a festive holiday drink to serve your guests, look no further. Here’s a traditional English drink recipe that’s sure to impress:
Traditionally drunk in England on Twelfth Night, this unusually named pagan throwback is consumed during the practice of “wassailing,” the ancient ritual of awakening apple trees from their winter slumber to encourage a bountiful apple crop in the coming year. Custom dictates that wassailers drink from a communal cup of lambswool while singing the wassail song (see below). Pots and pans are beaten with sticks to drive away any harvest-spoiling entities and, in some of the more rowdy ceremonies, shotguns* are fired into the branches of the quivering apple trees. Planning to hold your own backyard wassail? Appease frightened neighbors by offering them a cup of this steamy beverage.
Making time: 1 hour
6 medium apples
1 ½ cups demerara sugar
6 cups dry hard cider (homemade is best but we won’t tell if yours isn’t ready yet)
a few pinches of ground nutmeg
1-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled and grated
- Core the apples and press 5 cloves into the skin of each. Pour one tablespoon of demerara sugar into each apple, then cook on a baking sheet in the oven at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes. Check regularly to avoid the apples burning.
- Meanwhile, warm your cider gently in a pan, adding the remaining sugar, the nutmeg, and grated ginger.
- Stir gently until the sugar is dissolved, then continue to heat gently for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the baked apples from the oven and mash them in a bowl with a potato masher or similar. (Let the apples cool before mashing . . . hot pulp spilled onto skin will make you yelp.) Remove the apple skin with a fork first if you want aesthetically pleasing lambswool.
- Add the mashed apples to the pan, and use a whisk to combine them with the cider and spices. The more you whisk it, the more it is said to resemble lambswool, hence the name. (Albeit a filthy lamb that’s been rolling around in an orchard.)
- Ladle the finished drink into a communal bowl, adding a further sprinkle of nutmeg before passing cups around to eager wassailers.
The Wassail Song
Here stands a good apple tree, stand fast root!
Every little twig bear an apple big.
Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full,
Hip hip hurrah!
*We’d question the logic of mixing firearms with hard cider-based beverages, but there’s no accounting for some old English traditions!
Featured recipe from Brew It Yourself, by Nick Moyle and Richard Hood.
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Ready to reap the rewards of home-brewing? Have someone on your gift-giving list who appreciates a good brew? You can get the book here. Cheers!