Wassail

Recipes

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Three years ago the only piece of landscaping we kept in our yard upon moving in was this charming, corner apple tree.   (Above are a few of its fruits.)  We thanked the tree a lot that first summer because it produced early, in July, when we were transforming an impressively large in-ground pool and its concrete perimeter into a real yard and garden.  We snacked happily under the tree when the sun was beating hard.

Although we’ll have to say goodbye to the tree next year, for it’s obviously diseased and has only to offer bland, harassed apples, I still tip my hat.  It’s apple season now of course and time to think of wassailing.  To wassail is an old English way of toasting the fruit trees.  There are many ways to wassail and the term itself also refers to a mulled cider, but I appreciate the gist, which is to honor and wish well the trees, plants, and from my perspective, nature itself, which gives back to us many-fold.  Seriously though, there are so many wonderful, goofy ways to wassail that you may want to start a new tradition and celebration yourself.  Robert Herrick, the 17th-century English poet wrote this about wassailing:

Then, may your plants be prest with fruit,
Nor bee, or hive you have be mute ;
But sweetly sounding like a lute.

Of course I couldn’t get away without sharing an apple-love recipe; look below.  Also, I can’t go without saying that I’ve been gorging on the local Cortland apples this fall; each year I have a new favorite variety.  What’s yours?

BUSTRENGO (Bolognese Polenta and Apple Cake)

Serves many

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I covet; it is delicious, comforting and not too sweet.  As he says, it is very much like a bread and butter pudding, and something that the Italians would cook in the embers of the fire after dinner.

A dollop of butter; 1 cup polenta; 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, sifted; 2 cups stale bread crumbs; 1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting; 2 ¼ cups whole milk; 3 large organic eggs;  3 tablespoons honey; ¼ cup olive oil; 3 ½ oz. dried figs, chopped or torn up; 3 ½ oz. raisins; 1 pound firm eating apples, peeled, cored, and roughly diced; ½ teaspoon cinnamon; zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons; 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a shallow 11-inch tart pan.  Mix the polenta, flour, breadcrumbs, and sugar in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, honey and olive oil.  Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, making sure you stir it all together well.  Add the figs, raisins, apples, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest, and salt and stir again.

Pour the mixture into your tart pan and bake for 50 minutes.  Keep an eye on it—you may need to cover it with some aluminum foil if you find that it starts to brown too much at the edges.  Before serving, sprinkle some granulated sugar over it.