Tag: Cider

The Surprising History of Christmas Traditions

Wassail, one of the oldest holiday drinks, is named after the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael” or “good health.” Wassail was originally made with mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar

New Brunswick, N.J. (Dec. 19, 2019) – Did you know yuletide caroling began 1,000 years before Christmas existed? Or how about the fact that mistletoe was used to represent immortality long before the holiday reached Europe? And before there was eggnog, the medieval English drank wassail made from mulled ale. 

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Maria Kennedy, an instructor of folklore at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of American Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, has researched the European holiday traditions that predate – and became an inseparable part of – Christmas.

She shared her insights with Rutgers Today.

What is the origin of Christmas caroling?

The act of going from house to house during the darkest time of the year to spread hope through song has its origins​ throughout Europe and takes many forms including the British tradition of Wassail and Mumming, and the Slavic tradition of Koliada, which began before 998 B.C. In many traditions, people would go door to door and ask for permission to perform. They would recite poetry, sing and sometimes perform a skit. The idea was that these acts would bring about good fortune to influence a future harvest. Many of these visiting rituals were incorporated in the celebration of Christmas and are still performed in modern Ukraine as well as throughout Europe and across the United States.  

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Why do we associate Christmas with eggnog?

Holiday beverages like eggnog, mulled wine and hot cider often include cinnamon, cloves and/or other spices. In medieval England, these spices were of high value and would have been traded for other goods. They were a sign of wealth, so bringing them out for celebration was equivalent to bringing out the best wine for guests. Drinks with eggs and cream may seem strange to palates today, but these were also common in Medieval England. 

The ancestor of these drinks is wassail, named after the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael” or “good health.” Wassail was originally made with mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. It was served in huge bowls made of wood, pewter, porcelain, and silver. The act of wassailing would begin on the 12th day of Christmas – Jan. 5 or Jan. 6 – and included bonfires in the orchards, shooting guns to scare away bad spirits, caroling and pouring hot cider into the roots of trees for a good harvest the following year.

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Where did mistletoe and evergreen trees become part of the holiday?  

Mistletoe, an evergreen shrub, was used in celebrations dating back to the ancient Druids – Celtic religious leaders – some 2,000 years ago. Mistletoe represented immortality because it continued to grow in the darkest time of the year and bore white berries when everything else had died. Hanging its sprigs over doorways and windows was supposed to keep the evil spirits of disease from entering a house. Farmers found it easiest to remove parasitic mistletoe from apple trees in winter when the branches were barren.

The decorating of evergreen trees is a German custom that began in the 16th century and was popularized in England and America during the reign of Queen Victoria after she married Prince Albert in 1840. Albert would decorate the trees at Windsor Castle with wax candles and sweets. By the 1860s, hundreds of Christmas trees were sold in Covent Garden and eventually the trend made its way into American tradition. Originally, trees would be decorated with oranges stuck with cloves, cinnamon sticks and pine cones. Sometimes, the nut would be removed from a walnut shell and replaced by a small gift or candy before being hung on a tree. 

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Thanksgiving on tap: Best beverage pairings for a fantastic feast

Photo by Suzy Brooks

The Cornell Craft Beverage Institute offers scientific guidance to breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries throughout New York.

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As preparations begin for the Thanksgiving holiday, experts from the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute offer beverage pairings for the food feast, as well as delicious drinks for cooking, watching football and even those sometimes-challenging conversations with family.

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Brewing expert Kaylyn Kirkpatrick supervises the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute’s Hops Analysis Lab and brewery pilot plant, scheduled to open in early 2020. She helps brewers across New York state test ingredient quality. Kirkpatrick offers beer pairings for the upcoming holiday.

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/kaylyn-kirkpatrick/Kirkpatrick says:

“While you’re cooking and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the background, opt for a German Kristalweizen, a South German-style sparkling clear wheat beer. It’s similar to a hefeweizen but without the haze and palate fullness.

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“A gose, another German-style beer, would be great paired with smoked turkey and stuffing. This wheat beer has a lemon-like sour characteristic from the souring organism lactobacillus and is slightly salty from the water formulation.

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“A Belgian dark strong ale is an excellent pairing with pecan pie and other desserts, delivering a strong malt character with rich aromatic notes of dark fruit from extended aging and perfumey alcohol.”



Associate professor of enology Anna Katharine Mansfield works with New York state wineries and focuses on practical challenges facing small, local wineries. She also conducts research that aims to answer pressing questions facing the wine industry as a whole. Mansfield offers regional wine and spirit pairings for sipping during Thanksgiving.

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/anna-mansfield/“A Finger Lakes rosé of cabernet franc will go beautifully with the traditional turkey dinner.

“For post-prandial sipping, or for making warming cocktails, one of the several applejacks produced in the Hudson Valley would be a great choice. Applejack was one of the first American spirits, after all!



Christopher Gerling, an enologist and craft-beverage expert, is the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute’s expert who handles wine, cider and spirits. Recently he’s been spending his time working on fermentation formulations with New York state cideries. Gerling suggest cider pairings for holiday festivities. 

Bio: https://foodscience.cals.cornell.edu/people/christopher-gerling/

“For watching football, parades, or unpleasant family conversations, New York state ciders made from culinary apples will fit the bill. Found in cans or 12 oz. bottles, these ciders come in a variety of sweetness levels and seasonal flavors and make for a great gluten-free match with appetizers.

“For pairing with a turkey dinner, ciders made from traditional cider apples can work with just about any food. Often found in 750 ml bottles (like wine), these ciders can stand up to sauces, casseroles and a variety of veggies. Classic high-tannin ciders are also exceptionally enjoyable with cheeses.

“For pumpkin and apple pie, a pommeau will make any special occasion memorable. Made with a combination of apple brandy and apple juice, pommeau can be easier to enjoy than brandy and is far rarer than port.”Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.