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Pour some good holiday cheer with a traditional drink

Wassail cider recipe guaranteed to lift your Christmas spirits

POSTED: November 20, 2016 6:12 p.m.
Michelle Jameson/The Times

In the 1600s, holiday revelers started to bring their punch to seasonal events, and the tradition has taken its place in today's culture as a hot cider to be served in the cold winter months.

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The lyric, “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,” is instantly recognizable by anybody who has ever gone caroling.

But just what is “a-wassailing,” and how does that Christmas song relate to the beverage of the same name?

“I’m not sure, but I do know this recipe is pretty profound,” Rebekah Stillwell said.

The assistant manager of The Simmons-Bond Inn has spent the past several years serving her family’s drink at the historical bed and breakfast in Toccoa.

“Well, I actually call it wassail cider, because it’s made mostly of apple juice,” she said. “And when I think of apples, I think of cider. But the original recipe called it wassail. So I wanted to keep that part of it, as it is supposed to reflect older times.”

Embracing days of yore is practically Stillwell’s job description. In her role, she is responsible for ensuring all guests of the inn enjoy the historical building that proudly displays its heritage. The 20-room Queen Anne mansion was built in 1903 by renowned Georgia architect E. Levi Prater for lumber baron James B. Simmons, who wanted his wife, Antoinette, to live in a palatial setting worthy of her royal name.

“Everything about the inn really adds to it being a masterpiece of the 20th century,” Stillwell said. “It’s a big showcase of woodwork, stained glass and cut glass. And everything is original to that time.”

Which is why so many people love to pass part of the holiday season at the retreat, where vintage décor proves pervasive and perfect.

“It’s so festive here,” she said. “It definitely takes you back to and gives you a spirit of Christmases past.”

That is why Stillwell decided her guests deserved a vintage beverage, as well. As it just so happened, her sister had a recipe for exactly such a thing.

“I don’t know where she got it from, but it’s magical,” Stillwell said.

While the recipe has some modern twists (for example, pineapple juice plays a feature role), it incorporates the traditional ingredients that has allowed it to stand the test of time.

“We absolutely use the nutmeg and the cloves and the cinnamon,” she said.

While the term “wassail” originated from the old Norse word “ves heil,” which translates roughly into “be in good health,” the ancient warriors used the term as a toast when drinking. Eventually the name Wassail was applied to the punch, which incorporated such exotic seasonings as the now standard cloves and nutmeg.

In the 1600s, holiday revelers started to bring their punch to seasonal events, and the tradition has taken its place in today’s culture as a hot cider to be served in the cold winter months.

“It’s the perfect thing to serve to our guests as they curl up next to the fireplace with a book,” Stillwell said.



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