Skip to content

The Wassail Years

January 6, 2022

NOTE:  After posting about bagna calda last week, I thought I should also share with you my Wassail story and recipe–a post from December 4, 2013.  I have revised this piece for sharing with you at the onset of 2022.  Here is another way we can toast the new year!

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 also 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—former 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.  Yes, a few times, we did toast the new year with Wassail.

            The spicy smells and the warm flavor of Wassail make my soul tingle with the spirit of a family Christmastide.  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 or the cold wintry nights ahead 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 or small mugs

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

Cheers!  Hoping you enjoyed a Happy Kings’ Day and

wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy January!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 6, 2022, Thursday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Carole permalink

    Thanks, Alice, for the wassail recipe and lovely memories! I do remember attending the impressive Madrigal dinner and beautiful setting with you and your parents, as well as later at St. Mary’s. Sending a wassail toast and love to you and Willow for a Happy New Year!

    • Carole–Many thanks for reading this post, commenting, and giving it a
      “like.”  I have a distinct recollection of you, Tim, my parents, and I
      waiting in line at the Union Building to enter the banquet room for the
      ISU Madrigal Dinner.  How fondly I remember all those times we have shared!

      Enjoy the weekend–Alice and Willow

  2. Thank you, Alice, for writing about the Madrigal Dinners that brought such joy to our Christmas celebration for so many years! I especially remember how you, Mother, Mother’s dear friend Retha, and I dressed in our lovely long wool or velveteen skirts and fancy blouses and sweaters to attend this special event. Dad accompanied us looking very handsome, as always. Such a memorable evening with delicious dining and beautiful music! Whether we were at the Madrigal dinner or at our own home, the comforting fragrance and flavor of the wassail were delightful!
    Love and Best Wishes to you and Willow,

    • January Greetings!  Mary–Thanks for adding your comments to this
      Wassail post!  Yes, we did dress up more for those events–despite the
      wintry weather.  Yes, we remember our family friend Retha so fondly and
      are glad that she shared so many special times with us.

      Stay warm and well–Alice and Willow

  3. Hi Alice and Willow,
    Your Wassail memories bring fond memories to me as well as our daughter was in a select choir group during her high school years that involved a lovely Madrigal dinner each year and even a final demonstration event, during the summer, at Alma College, after her senior year. . A local seamstress made gorgeous detailed costumes, and an elaborate meal, Boars Head and all, was enjoyed. No wonder you remember your experiences so well as they were magical events.

    So often your writing brings to mind such sweet memories. The comments can do the same as your Aunt Kathy remembered Bagna Calda on the cook stove, just where ours would have been prepared. Again, a wonderful look back to the details of our long ago lives.

    Happy New Year to you and Willow.


    • New Year Greetings!  Fran–Many thanks for sharing more about Madrigal
      dinners and bagna calda in the comment section!  What a wonderful
      Madrigal experience for your daughter, as well as for you and Jack as
      her parents and audience-members!  The costumes for the Madrigals must
      have been very special also.  For me, the plum pudding was a favorite
      part of the dinner.

          I am so glad that you also read Aunt Kathy’s comments about bagna

      Stay warm and well!

      With thanks, Alice and Willow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: