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Wassailing (or caroling) dates to pre-Christian days in England and seemed like a particularly hobbitous way of ringing in the new year. The word "wassail" actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon "westu hal" for "good health." I imagine that as he aged the similarity was not lost on Merry Brandybuck.
The tradition of Christmas ghost stories was abundant in Victorian England and actually served as the grounds for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Frodo’s particular ghost story is adapted from a New England Tale published in the Americana collection Kid's America.
All of the foods described have been used in traditional English Christmas cooking. Recipes for any of the wassail foods and drinks not provided below are available upon request.
This recipe yields a pleasing, moist, gingerbread-like cake and is adapted from a traditional Yorkshire recipe for “pepper cakes” given to carolers. In my test batch I used light brown sugar for the dark and had no problems. If you wish to make less (as the cakes are quite rich), you may quarter the recipe, use a 9x5 loaf pan, and bake the cakes for only an hour.
325 ° F
1 ½ lbs. flour (about 5 ½ cups) 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325° and grease and flour a 9 x 13 in. baking pan.
Cut butter into flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Mix in sugar and spices. Add molasses and eggs, beating until smooth. Dissolve baking powder into milk, then add to batter.
Pour into baking pan, spread out evenly, and bake for 1¾ hours. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out to let cool. Store in an airtight tin a few days to develop flavors. Cut into slices shortly before eating.
Bag End’s Famed Wassail
This recipe is adapted from one for the seasonal drink ‘Lamb’s Wool.’ It differs from regular wassail punch in that it uses more spices (in both quantity and variety) and in that the apples roasted for it are actually scooped out and included in each serving (the wooly apple flesh giving it its real-world name). The recipe given serves four, and was presumably reduced (not by me) from its original ‘quantity’ proportions by a sensible cook. Both Mr. Bagginses are pleased to note that the original recipe is now impossible to duplicate as the ale they based the drink on was only brewed in Hobbiton.
4 eating apples ½ tsp. ground ginger
Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Place apples in a baking pan with a little ale and cook for 30 minutes or until the apple flesh is wooly in texture.
Meanwhile, heat ale, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan over low heat until very hot, but do not allow to boil. Strain into a large serving bowl. Scoop apple pulp from apples with a spoon, discarding core and pips, and pile on the hot ale. Serve hot with a scoop of apple flesh in each glass; apple flesh should be eaten with a spoon.
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