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Guest Post : Claire Maycock’s “Wassail”


Wassail  cups

 

Whilst English and French cuisine are often separated by more than just a body of water, there is one festive tradition that unites that most British of beverages – ale – with a generous serving of French brandy to achieve a true entente cordiale!

The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Old English ‘waes hael’, meaning ‘be healthy’ or ‘good health to you’, and the wassailing tradition can be traced as far back as the 11th century in the South and West of England.

Groups of villagers (usually women or children, but occasionally rowdy young men) would go door to door visiting the homes of the local gentry and offering them a song and a drink from the wassail bowl in return for a gift or payment. This is the origin of the old carol ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’ with its beautiful chorus:

“Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you, and send you
A Happy New Year,
And God send you a Happy New Year.”

The custom was also adopted by some agricultural communities who would pour wassail over the roots of fruit trees to bless them and ensure a healthy harvest for the following year:

“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a plum, and many a peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring
As you doe give them wassailing.”

The exact timing of wassailing parties seems to have varied from Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night, depending on local practice, so it’s a flexible as well as a jolly tradition that will see you right through to 2014.

Wassail main ingredients

Ingredients

  • Three apples
  • One orange
  • The rind of one lemon
  • 1oz (60g) butter
  • 3oz (90g) brown sugar
  • Two Cinnamon sticks
  • A pinch of Ginger
  • Two whole Nutmegs
  • A pinch of Cloves
  • Two pints of English beer
  • Half a pint of dry white wine (you could use French although I used Italian)
  • One cup of French brandy

Wassail preparation

Method

  • Cut the apples into slices, removing the seeds. Slice the orange and grate the rind from the lemon.
  • Gently melt the butter over a low heat then add the sliced fruit, lemon rind, sugar and spices and stir for a few minutes while the flavours combine.

Wassail prep2

  • Add all of the liquid and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
  • Ladle into serving cups, taking care to remove the nutmeg and cinnamon sticks first.

Wassail pre3

Your wassail will taste even better if made in advance and then gently reheated just before serving. You can vary the spices to suit your taste, try mulling cider or apple juice instead of beer or substitute sherry for wine  if you prefer a sweeter drink. The main thing is that you enjoy your wassail in good company, offering a toast of ‘waes hael’ and receiving the traditional reply of “drinc hael’, meaning drink well!

Biography

Claire Maycock is a writer, reiki practitioner and local history enthusiast who moved to Wiltshire at the beginning of 2013. Her blog, ‘Raking the Moon’, is about life in this fascinating county both past and present and looks at country customs, places of interest and current events. To find out more, please visit www.clairemaycock.com

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One French word: framboise, a French recipe: crème à la framboise meringuée


Crème à la framboise meringuée

Crème à la framboise meringuée

The raspberry is the queen of all summer fruits, delicious guzzled straight from the sun-warmed cane. Raspberries are best used fresh, very fresh, as they spoil quickly. Frozen (or rather defrosted) they go mushy and lose a great deal of their interest. Although… although… I do use frozen raspberries on occasion, about three of them, straight out of the freezer, as ice cubes in champagne. They melt gently, keeping the champagne chilled longer, suffuse it with a delicate pale pink, and can be slurped in an unmannerly fashion from the bottom of the glass.

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Late raspberries are still available. They cost gold of course, but maybe you have a few in the garden?

The French grammar bit:

Framboise = raspberry, feminine noun, une framboise, la framboise, les framboises, pronounced fraam-bouahz

The origins of the word are bram- (bramble bush) and -basi (berry) in old low French.

My recipe today is for Crème à la framboise meringuée, a delicious, quick, easy summer dessert. In England it is of course known as “Eton Mess”, and is traditionally served in summer, on the occasion of Eton College’s annual cricket match against Harrow (two of the most famous schools in the country).

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

You will need for 6 people:

  • 6 good handfuls of fresh raspberries
  • 1 scant tbs of eau de vie de framboise (raspberry alcohol or raspberry gin (see recipe below) (optional)
  • 6 small white meringues
  • 1/2 litre of whipping cream

Preparation:

  • Pick through the raspberries to ensure there are no bugs, but try to avoid washing them, unless you are unsure of their source, in which case it is better to rinse them.
  • Stiffly whip the cream. You need no sugar unless you have a particularly sweet tooth. Add the alcohol if you are using it.
  • Roughly crush all the raspberries except for 6 (if you are doing this recipe in winter, do try using frozen raspberries, but drain them well so that their juice doesn’t liquefy the cream.
  • Roughly crush three of the meringues.
  • Mix the crushed raspberries with the whipped cream.

In tall glasses (tulip shaped champagne glasses work well, or martini glasses) alternate layers of raspberry cream with layers of meringue bits. The last layer should be raspberry cream. Top with a fresh raspberry and a meringue.

This dessert should really be assembled at the last minute from chilled ingredients. If prepared in advance, the meringue goes soft.

CIMG5784

Simple, delicious.

Bon appétit!

PS The recipe for raspberry gin:

A pound of raspberries, a bottle of gin, sugar to taste

At the height of the raspberry season, when they are nice and ripe, slightly crush a pound of raspberries and, in a litre bottle, add to a bottle of gin. You can use frozen raspberries if you must. Add sugar, it needs a bit, not a lot, and actually you can always add it later. This is not a liqueur, not sweet, but dry, with punch. Store in a dark cupboard, shaking daily (make sure the cork is firmly in place!) for the first week, once a week for the next month. Forget about it for at least another month. Strain out all the pulp and pour into a clean bottle, labelled clearly. This can be used in fruit desserts, or drunk in small quantities neat or on the rocks. You can do the same thing with sloes (prunelles), sloe gin. Am I meant to put the standard warning: alcohol is dangerous for your health, here?

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