A Wintery Wassailing

By Urvashi Roe •


Here we go a-wassailing! A popular children's song, but how much do we know about wassailing? Urvashi went to a wassailing ceremony at her local orchard to ensure a good harvest for the Autumn. She also shares a delicious recipe for Apricot Crumble Loaf Cake enjoyed at the ceremony with mulled cider.

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I’ve been volunteering at my local Community Orchard at Forty Hall Farm in Enfield for over a year now. It’s been a slow but interesting journey to resurrect an orchard on the farm’s old orchard site and stay true to the choice of trees and farming methods they would have had centuries ago.  We’ve tried hard to research and keep aligned to traditions and one in particular is a highlight for all of us – the annual wassailing ceremony!

Origins that are adhered to today

In Anglo Saxon times, the word ‘wæshæl’ meant ‘to be in good health’ but it’s also the name of a mulled cider which was drunk during the wassailing ceremonies.  These ceremonies were led at the beginning of the year to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the Autumn.  There was much singing and dancing from village to village as different orchards were visited and blessed.  Processions were led by a Wassail King and Queen. 

On the weekend of our Wassailing ceremony at the community orchard, we arrived to a good few inches of snow across the orchard site.  Our little trees were barely visible in the wintry landscape but we were determined not to cancel. We’d recently planted 150 different types of fruit trees and didn’t want any bad spirits jeopardising them!

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We first built a bonfire. It was very welcome in the sub-zero temperatures.

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Once we were all warmed up, one of our volunteers read out a poem specially written for the occasion. 

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Another volunteer had baked a ring of bread which our little Wassail Queen placed on one of the branches of the single mature tree on the site as we lifted our cups of mulled cider and shouted “Wassail! Wassail! Wassail!” And banged pots, pans and spades to let those evil spirits know who they might be messing with! For extra measure we dipped more bread into the cider and put it on the trees.

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Mulled cider and some cake to celebrate

After that it was all about some merriment with singing and dancing albeit to keep warm in the snow.  We drank more mulled cider with some Apricot Crumble Loaf Cake that I’d made that morning.

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Ingredients

For the topping

  • 25g soft unsalted butter
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 25g plain flour

For the loaf

  • A 1lb loaf tin 
  • 250g apricots (weight after stones removed so about 10-12)
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soad
  • 65g soft brown sugar
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 160ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (plus a little more for drizzling)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line your loaf tin 
  2. Rub all the topping ingredients together until you have breadcrumbs and then set aside.
  3. Chop the apricots into small pieces – approx 2 cm chunks – and set aside
  4. Melt the butter and set aside to cool
  5. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and sugars together.
  6. Toss the apricots in to this dry mixture and stir them in evenly.  Make sure each piece is covered in flour otherwise it will sink to the bottom when baking.
  7. Mix the milk, egg and vanilla essence together.
  8. Pour in the cooled butter and lightly whisk til well mixed.
  9. Pour the liquid mixture over the flour and apricot mixture and mix very lightly and gently with a fork. Do not beat. Just lift through with a fork til it’s barely mixed.
  10. Pour the mixture into the lined loaf tin and spoon over the maple syrup.
  11. Now spoon over the crumble mixture and then bake for about an hour.  A skewer inserted should come our clean.
  12. Leave to cool in the tin and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely
  13. Drizzle over a little more maple syrup before serving

All in all, it was a lovely wintery wassailing and I hope our little tradition will bring forth blossoms.  We’ll have to wait a few years yet for a good harvest of any fruits! 

Has Urvashi's cake got you in the mood for more baking?  Visit Great British Chefs baking recipe collection for more inspiration.

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Urvashi Roe

Urvashi finds food, baking, cooking & eating a therapeutic relief from her day job in marketing. She also freelances for various publications including lovefood.com & The Foodie Bugle and was a former contestant on BBC2's Great British Bake Off. Fascinated by the nutritional properties of fresh produce she started to share her knowledge on her Botanical Baker blog. As an Indian, she's also passionate about the food of her foremothers & shares the simplicity of this on her Gujerati Girl blog. 

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