Going back millennia, the Winter Solstice has been a season for feasting and gathering with family and friends as a way of bringing the light back into our lives at this darkest time of the year. Eating delicious, seasonal, local produce, as well as sharing our abundance with others, binds us closer to our environment and community and brings the sacred as well as the sensual into our everyday lives in a meaningful way. Spiced cider and mulled wine are traditional drinks for the season and are deliciously warming after a cold day. Author Danu Forest explains the practice of Wassailing and offers us her Spiced Cider recipe from her book, The Magical Year: Seasonal Celebrations To Honour Nature’s Ever Turning Wheel.
The practice of blessing each other and the spirits of the orchards with homemade spiced cider or ale, together with songs and merriment, goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. Wassailing, as it is known, now usually takes place on Twelfth Night (6 January) in the northern hemisphere, but it used to be practised at Yule, Imbolc and other seasonal feast times, too. In your modern Winter Solstice celebration, you might want to revive this tradition as a way of gathering with friends, family and community to appreciate the gifts of nature.
Make your offering to the spirit of the orchard — sometimes known as the Apple Man or Avalloch — by pouring a cup of warmed cider and placing a piece of toast at the roots of an apple tree or any other fruit-bearing tree. Take your time and do this reverentially, being truly present as you thank the trees for their gifts of fruit over the summer and ask that they continue in their generosity in the coming year. Say these words: "I thank you, Spirit of the Apple Tree, for all your gifts, this year and the next! Blessed be!"
This recipe is really easy to make and perfect for wassailing. For a non-alcoholic drink, replace the cider with apple juice.
• 3 apples, grated • 1.5 litres, 52 fluid ounces or 6 cups cider or apple juice • 75 grams, 2-1/2 ounces or 1/3 cup brown sugar • 1/2 teaspoon whole nutmeg, grated • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves • 3 teaspoons dried cinnamon stick, grated • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated
1. Place the apples in a large pan and cover with the cider, then cook for about 5 minutes or until the fruit is soft.
2. Add the sugar and spices and gently simmer for 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your taste.
3. Pour into a large cup or bowl to be shared around, while offering the blessing waes hael ("good health").