Friday, December 19, 2008
Hot Buttered Rum Punch and Wassail
If Lil - my darling Lily - were here, she'd walk you through the finer points of wassailing and you'd belly up to the bar, completely charmed, before the night was through. Lily was director of nursing at a teaching hospital in Chicago; she was also instrumental in establishing hospice centers throughout the city. Lily belonged to a community I've come to call the gatekeepers - a special group of people whose training and disposition place them with those about to take the first or last breaths of their lives. It's holy work - they are the faces we see at the beginning and end of life's journey.
Lily was my friend and neighbor and, for a period of time, a gatekeeper for my almost 3 pound baby daughter. She walked and talked me through sleepless nights and miles of worry, but our story had a happy ending - one that was atypical for preemies born all those years ago. Then came another baby girl - this one delivered by 747. She was frightened, malnourished and in braces; one of the first people she'd let hold her was Lil. She never got to see the beautiful and accomplished women "her" babies became. Her pride would measure mine and I must tell you these young women still take my breath away. I can't believe they're mine.
Lily knew how to make Christmas merry. She loved caroling (wassailing) and she wasn't above having a nip now and then. She was very familiar with the tradition of wassailing. As she explained it, wassailers went from door to door, singing and drinking to the health of their neighbors. In pre-Christian times villagers traveled through fields and orchards in the middle of winter, singing and shouting to drive away any spirits that might prevent or slow the growth of future crops. As part of this, they poured wine and cider on the ground to encourage fertility in the crops. Lily thought this was a terrible waste of spirits. During the Victorian era this evolved into the idea of Christmas caroling. Carolers would return home after a night of singing and warm themselves by the fire with a pot of spiced wassail or hot buttered rum. I suspect they slept well. Today's recipes are for a hot buttered rum concentrate that will quench the thirst of the entire neighborhood; the other is for wassail - an elixer for those who are really, really cold or really, really thirsty. They are both very good. I hope you'll give them a try this holiday season. Slainte Mhath, a Mhari!
Hot Buttered Rum Concentrate
1 pound golden brown sugar
1 pound confectioners' sugar
1/2 pound softened, unsalted butter
1 quart French vanilla ice cream
Pick your poison - rum, Irish whiskey etc.
Grated nutmeg for garnish
1) Place brown sugar, confectioners' sugar, butter and ice cream in bowl of an electric stand mixer. Mix, using paddle attachment, to combine. Freeze.
2) When ready to serve, place 1 to 2 tablespoons of frozen mixture into a mug. Add a jigger of rum or whiskey and fill mug with boiling water. Sprinkle top with nutmeg. Yield: 24 to 32 servings.
Lily's Wassail Bowl
4 small oranges, unpeeled
3 (12-ounce each) bottles ale
3 cups dark rum
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Stud oranges, at 1/2-inch intervals, with cloves. Place in a shallow pan and bake, uncovered for 30 minutes.
3) Place ale, rum, sugar and ginger in a 5 to 6-quart saucepan. Bring just to boiling, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
4) Place hot oranges in a punch bowl. Slowly cover with hot liquid. Ladle into cups. Serve hot. Yield: 15 servings.
Lily's Scottish Toast
The toast is Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slanjey-va, meaning "Good Health"). The response is Slainte Mhor! (pronounced Slanjey-voe, meaning "Great Health").