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Recipe with Memory Piece: The Wassail Years

December 4, 2013


The Wassail Years


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



            About thirty years ago, in the midst of a Victorian Dinner in celebration of the theatrical production A Victorian Christmas at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Indiana), my parents, a friend, and I chuckled as we dipped our spoons into the mock turtle soup for the first time.  Since one chair at the long table where we were assigned to sit was still empty at the soup course, my mother quipped, “Someone is missing a good time and turtle soup this evening.”


            The young man sitting across from the empty chair responded, “That chair was for my fiancée, but we broke off the engagement after I purchased the tickets for this evening.”


            Feeling a little guilty about the attorney’s situation, we encouraged him to join our lively and fun conversation, as well as the wassail toast. 


I certainly enjoyed the wassail much more than the mock turtle soup that evening in the great hall.  The wassail bowl was paraded into other venues where we attended Madrigal Dinners.  While the first Madrigal Dinner I experienced was presented by the prestigious School of Music of Indiana University (Bloomington), I even more appreciated the Madrigal Dinners at Indiana State University (Terre Haute)which offered a more intimate setting for the wassail toast and the holiday meal—complete with flaming plum pudding and a spectacular harpsichord. 


            “The Wassail Song” quickly comes to mind as I think of these special dinners and our own Wassail recipe.  Well, actually, a friend gave me the recipe when we were in high school.  Nancy told me that the recipe was the one that the Hulman family used each holiday season.  Since I knew that Nancy’s family owned an automobile dealership and had some connections, I did believe that the Wassail recipe was from the famous Anton (“Tony”) Hulman, Jr., family—owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as Hulman and Company (makers of Clabber Girl Baking Powder).  From the age of five years, I was enamored with going to the qualifications and race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I became as big a race fan as my dad, so I was delighted to have the Wassail recipe of the Hulman family.


            For at least a couple of decades, I made the Wassail recipe for Christmas Eve.  I loved making a cheesecloth bag for the fragrant cloves and allspice and relished serving the cups of warm Wassail to each guest who arrived for the holiday gathering.  When the Christmas Eve was cold in our small rural town in Indiana, the kettle of Wassail would be empty by the end of the evening.  On a rare occasion when the weather was warm for December, we had leftover Wassail, but bottled it for New Year’s Eve or for gifts to friends. 


            The spicy smells and the warm flavor of Wassail make my soul tingle with the spirit of a family Christmas.  During the autumnal and winter holidays, Wassail is my favorite beverage because it is spiced with the warm memories of Victorian and Madrigal Dinners, as well as a Massa home.  Please toast this holiday season with the following recipe.




1.  Using cheesecloth and button thread, make a bag in which you have placed one tablespoon whole cloves and one tablespoon whole allspice; set aside for later use.


2.  In a large kettle, combine:  one gallon apple cider, one-half cup light or dark brown sugar, six ounces of frozen orange juice (undiluted), and six ounces of frozen lemonade (undiluted).


3.  Stir in one tablespoon ground nutmeg.


4.  Float spice bag (step one) in kettle.


5.  After mixture begins to boil softly, cover and let simmer for twenty minutes.  IMPORTANT:  Do not allow mixture to come to a hard boil!


6.  Serve the Wassail warm with a cinnamon stick, with a small candy cane, or plain.


SERVINGS:  25 punch cups


7.  Any leftover Wassail can be refrigerated and later re-heated.


Cheers!  Happy St. Nick’s Day!  Jolly Holidays!



Post-script:  Happy Birthdays and Happy 43rd Anniversary to my Florida cousins!


December 4, 2013, Wednesday



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  1. Your piece makes me wish I had a cup right now!

    • How nice to hear from you again! Best wishes to you and your family for a wonderful holiday season! Alice

  2. Thanks for bringing back the wonderful sights, tastes, and experiences of Christmases past so eloquently, Alice!
    Love, Mary

  3. Hi Alice, In the 1980’s, during the two and a half years I was a student at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, I sang in the choir and participated in the annual madrigal dinner. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun. I hope you and your family have an enjoyable holiday season.

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