Clarence, the beloved angel from It's a Wonderful Life ordered his mulled wine "heavy on the cinnamon...light on the cloves." In our family, our alcohol-free hot spiced wassail was liked just the opposite: light on the cinnamon, heavy on the cloves–because studding the oranges with cloves was the special activity Aunt Sharley always brought for the children (young and old alike!). Of course, adults can spike it with a little rum!
Aunt Sharley's Christmas Wassail
6 cinnamon sticks—about 6 inches each
1 teaspoon whole allspice
8 cups apple juice or cider
2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon aromatic bitters
6 whole navel oranges (we use more)
(optional for adults : good rum for “spiking” to taste)
Break cinnamon sticks in half, combine with 16 cloves and whole allspice
in a cheesecloth bag tied with kitchen twine. (hint: if you don’t have cheesecloth, you can use a coffee filter)
In large saucepan, combine juices, sugar and bitters. Heat mixture over low heat.
Meanwhile, stud the oranges with cloves (designs and initials should be encouraged!) and drop each carefully into the pot when studded. Bring mixture to a low boil, then reduce to simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Pour into a punch or other non-heat conducting serving bowl and ladle into punch cups or mugs.
Optional: garnish with an orange slice.
Wassail can be served warm or at room temperature and reheats well.
The aroma wafts through the house—smells like Christmas!