When the family of only children died off, the Christmas customs went with them. At this point, I have a son, a daughter-in-law and three cousins, only one of whom stays close.
We used to do all the mandatory running around at Christmas, mainly because the previous two generations believed in cooking massive Christmas dinners. One had to eat at all of them lest the hostess be offended after putting in long hours into a turkey or a ham or a goose. Christmas Eve was always fried perch, something I have never been fond of. But the prospect of something really good for Christmas Day made getting through the perch just a bit easier.
Now with just my son and daughter-in-law, who sometimes come home for Christmas from their Army base at Ft. Lewis, Wash., we have to make Christmas customs as we go along. With only little time due to government and politics, the only decoration is our tiny Walgreens light-up tree which resembles Charlie Brown's poor twig.
Then, too, there is now an artificial palm tree with Italian lights?"a gift from Arcade Antiques owner Kay Snyder, which travels incognito as a Christmas tree. We try to remember to plug in both.
This year, however, Pepi and Christina and I are going to resurrect something Pepi and I tried to do in the past. We are going to make wassail and we are going to try to get our acts together enough to pass it out to the neighbors. So, neighbors, this is a warning ... there may be wassail in your future.
You ask what is wassail? It is kind of like the Swedish glug, a holiday drink of various things. I really don't know what goes into glug, and have only had it once. It was not too bad, though I wouldn't want to make a habit of it.
We decided to make wassail after we contemplated the Christmas carol "Here We Come A-Wassailing." After less than adequate research, we discovered it was a drink. I set out to find a cookbook for a recipe, and I found one on a trip to Williamsburg, Va.
In fact, having disposed of most of the family cookbooks due to lack of use, I do keep "The Williamsburg Cookbook" strictly for the wassail recipe.
"The Williamsburg Cookbook" gives the following background on wassail:
"Wassailing is an ancient English custom, part of the feasts and revelry of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, which have been revived in Colonial Williamsburg. The master of the English household drank the health of those present with a bowl of spiced ale, and each in turn after him, passed the bowl along and repeated the Saxon phrase Wass hael, 'be whole' or 'be well.'"
So, to share what probably will be our feeble efforts with all of you who will not get the real McCoy, I am including the recipe with all attribution to the "Williamsburg Cookbook."
Granted, it might not surpass eggnog nor be a daily taste, but for Christmas, it can be a lot of fun. At least it keeps us in the kitchen together, where all families seem to gravitate at the holidays.
And so from the Topinka Family, Army Maj. Joe (Pepi), Christina, Scottie Molly McDoo and beagle Peggy Sue, a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, with special prayers for our military forces anywhere they may be in the world.
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
3 lemon slices
2 cups pineapple juice
2 cups orange juice
6 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup dry sherry
2 lemons, sliced
Boil the sugar, cinnamon sticks, and 3 lemon slices in 1/2 cup of water for 5 minutes and strain. Discard the cinnamon sticks and lemon slices.
Heat but do not boil the remaining ingredients. Combine with the syrup, garnish with lemon slices and serve hot.