A Christmas Gift from Taryn Darr: Grandma Frances’ Wassail Recipe

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‘wäsəl,’ ‘wä-sāl’

  1. To drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
  2. To go from house to house at Christmas singing carols. (“Here we go a-wassailing…”)


  1. Spiced cider or ale or mulled wine and spices drunk during celebrations for Twelfth Night and Christmas Eve.

I grew up in Oregon and every Christmas, the family would gather from near and far to celebrate the holidays at my Grandma Frances’ home in Astoria where a big batch of her wassail recipe would be simmering away on the stove. It wasn’t Christmas until you walked into her house and that unbelievable smell of fruit and spices hit you.

Wassail Photo
This is a recipe that my great grandma made for Grandma Frances when she was a girl. Grandma Frances is a little older now and has passed the torch. Now my mom and my aunt make it for all of us. My mom even has the original recipe card—soft, tattered and well-loved! When I grew up and moved out and got my own place in Seattle, I remember calling her at Christmas and saying, “I need the wassail recipe” and now I have my own beat-up recipe card that I keep close all season long.

image001A few years ago, I was in ELF – The Musical here at The 5th, and that was the first time I made wassail for my cast. It’s hard to go home for the holidays when you are in a show during the season, so I decided to share some wassail with my cast instead, who really is your family when a show is on. I made it again during A Christmas Story: The Musical. So when I got cast in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, I knew this was a new tradition. I made it for an early rehearsal and I’ll be making it again for any other future holiday shows I’m cast in at The 5th (hint hint!)

When I was writing my bio for the program for Holiday Inn, I thought about trying to fit in a few more credits that I am proud of. But then I thought… just maybe… Since this was a recipe that was I share with all of my family, I would try to share it with ALL of my 5th Avenue family, including the whole audience! I typed the recipe up and I just had to laugh when I finished—it fit PERFECTLY with my allotted word count.

I highly encourage you to give the wassail a try for your holiday gatherings this year! This is the kind of recipe that is very freeing. It’s really more like guidelines than anything. But here are some tips from my family to yours:

  • A lot of people will make a wassail with apple cider, but ours is a little different because we like to make it with cranberry juice. If anything, my mom and I go a little lighter on the pineapple juice and a little heavier on the cranberry juice.
  • Dark brown sugar is better than light.
  • Consider adding slices of oranges or lemons if that suits your fancy. It’s not my cup of… well, wassail… but it sure looks pretty!
  • You can add a little deep dark wine to it if you to adultify it a little bit, but I like it just as it is.
  • When I make it, I tend to go a little heavier on the spices. But maybe you like yours lighter? You don’t have to include everything.
  • Here’s a tip I picked up this year! Have you ever seen those reusable tea sachets? I started trying that with my spices this year (I found mine at Uwajimaya but you can also order them online here). I fill a couple of sachets with the spices and that way when it’s time to serve, you don’t have to worry about someone choking on a whole clove…
  • Sip your wassail as you mix and heat it, tinker as you go, and stop when it makes you happy. Again, the recipe is very forgiving and really leaves you a lot of room to make it your own.
  • Most importantly, this is (obviously) not an ancient family secret. If you like it, share the recipe with someone you love and make it a new tradition. Anytime I go anywhere for the holidays, I share it. And I think that would make Grandma Frances really happy. She always really did up Christmas so it’s really special to carry this little piece of her with us to make her a part of our Christmas traditions going forward.

So there you have it – Christmas in a cup! It makes you want to curl up and watch the snow come down; it makes you want to gather around a piano and sing Christmas carols; it makes a day of cooking and entertaining feel complete.

So without further ado… here’s you go…

Grandma Frances’ Spiced Wassail Recipe:

  • 2 Tablespoons whole cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons whole allspice
  • 6 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 large can pineapple juice
  • 1 large jug cranberry juice

Combine spices, sugar and water in large pot. Simmer 10-15 minutes. Strain spices; set aside (reuse these to refresh your wassail later). Add juices heat thoroughly.

Happy holidays!

Taryn Darr


1 comments on “A Christmas Gift from Taryn Darr: Grandma Frances’ Wassail Recipe”

  1. I will be trying your recipe. Loved the musical! I was born in Astoria, lived in the Seattle area for 40 + years and have enjoyed the musicals at the 5th for about 27 years. I’m now in Manzanita, OR but enjoy shopping in Astoria. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s recipe and will look forward to seeing you in future musicals.


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