In middle school I began hosting an annual Christmas party for the girls in my class. I felt very chic, acting as the hostess and putting together a menu alongside my mother. I always requested a Bouche de Noel (my taste was very mature for a 10-year-old), in addition to assorted cookies, brownies, and hot cocoa.
My mother always insisted on serving her wassail punch, which I didn't think was very cool, but I let it slide. As I got older, though, I began looking forward to the punch -- the smells of apple cider and cinnamon lingering through the house. Now I can't imagine Christmas without it!
In true Southern fashion, my mother's punch is just an "oh you know, a little bit of this and a little bit of that" recipe, but it didn't take long to recreate a version that reminds me of my youth. As I continue my tradition of annual holiday entertaining, you can rest assured this wassail punch always finds its way to the table (with a splash of bourbon for extra Christmas cheer).
6 cups apple cider
1 cup orange juice
4 cinnamon sticks, plus additional for garnish
6-8 whole star anise, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of allspice
Juice of one lemon
Bourbon or whiskey (optional, but highly recommended)
In a large dutch oven, bring all of the ingredients to a low boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for a few hours. Serve hot; spike with bourbon/whiskey, if desired. Garnish with whole cinnamon sticks and star anise.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)