Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wassail, drinc hail

Wassailing is the remnants of an older pagan tradition where groups toasted, gave offerings to, honored, implored, and sometimes threatened their apple trees for a bounty of fruit in the coming year. It later became associated with the Christian Christmas celebration sometime around the 1400's.

Image source: Legendary Dartmoor

Hymns and Carols says that, "The word 'wassail' comes from the Old English "Waes hael" — that is, "Good Health!" The correct response was "Drinc hael."

Also that:

"...mention of "used in pledging" is especially interesting. William Sandys, in his 1853 work Christmas-tide includes the following passages which bear on this theme:

The wassail bowl, of which the skull of an enemy would thus appear to have formed their beau idéal, is said to have been introduced by them. Rowena, the fair daughter of Hengist, presenting the British king, Vortigern, with a bowl of wine, and saluting him with “Lord King Wass-heil;” to which he answered, as he was directed, “Drine heile,” and saluted her then after his fashion, being much smitten with her charms. The purpose of father and daughter was obtained; the king married the fair cup-bearer, and the Saxons obtained what they required of him.

This is said to have been the first wassail in this land; but, as it is evident that the form of salutation was previously known, the custom must have been much older among the Saxons; and, indeed, in one of the histories, a knight, who acts as a sort of interpreter between Rowena and the king, explains it to be an old custom among them.

By some accounts, however, the Britons are said themselves to have had their wassail bowl, or lamb’s wool — La Mas Ubhal, or day of apple fruit — as far back as the third century, made of ale, sugar (whatever their sugar was), toast and roasted crabbs, hissing in the bowl; to which, in later times, nutmeg was added.

The followers of Odin and Thor drank largely in honor of their pagan deities; and, when converted, still continued their potations, but in honor of the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and Saints; and the early missionaries were obliged to submit to this substitution, being unable to abolish the practice, which afterwards degenerated into drinking healths of other people, to the great detriment of our own. Strange! that even from the earliest ages, the cup-bearer should be one of the principal officers in the royal presence, and that some of the high families take their name from a similar office..."

In Saxon and Viking times cupbearers were usually the highest ranking women of a House, a position of honor and esteem. But back to wassailing!

Wassailing the trees occured on old "twelfth night", the 12th night after Christmas eve, or January 17th on the old calendar. Obviously traditions varied, but in Devonshire, Herefordshire and in other parts of the West Country of England (as well as elsewhere no doubt) families would hold a feast with cakes, cider and in some areas beer and ale too. After a time of eating and drinking everyone trooped out to the orchard to wassail the trees, and wake them up from winter for the coming season as well as scare off any bad energy, spirits or demons .

Ale, beer or cider soaked toast, in some areas special cakes, would be placed in the tree branches or in a fork of the tree, and then be splashed with more cider. Trees might be beaten with sticks, pounded on, pots and pans clanged, and in appropriate eras, guns that had been loaded with just powder (no shot) would be fired at the trees.

Image source:

While this went on, others in the group bowed their heads and sang the special "wassail song".

Variations include:

Old apple tree, we'll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well
And so merry let us be
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree

(Spoken)Apples now, hat-fulls, three bushel bag-fulls,
tallets ole-fulls, barn's floor-fulls,
little heap under the stairs
Hip Hip Hooroo (3 times)

(From Folk and also you'll find at this link, associated sheet music as well as a midi of the tune.)

Often during or after the spoken part above, a full bag would be symbolically hoisted over the shoulder 3 times as well to represent the expected bumper crop.

Image Source: Stuart King

In other traditions it was just the men if the village who went out to orchards, then traveled tree to tree with a "wassail bowl" and alternately serenaded and threatened trees. They danced, sang, drank cider or the like, and again trees were either shot at or threatened with axes if they didn't produce well in the coming year.

The men would later return home and feast with the women and children. In some areas the returning men would actually be barred from the home, until they guessed what delicious tidbit was cooking on the spit!

Here's a A Traditional Shropshire Wassail Recipe – for hardened Wassailers! From

10 very small apples
1 large orange stuck with whole cloves
10 teaspoons brown sugar
2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cloves 3 allspice berries 2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups castor sugar
12 to 20 pints of cider according to the number of guests
1 cup (or as much as you like) brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Insert cloves into the orange about 1/2" apart. Bake the orange with the apples in a 350° oven. After about 30 minutes, remove the orange and puncture it in several places with a fork or an ice pick.

Combine the sherry or Madeira, cider, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar, apple and orange juice and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly without letting the mixture come to a boil. Leave on very low heat. Strain the wine mixture and add the brandy.

Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples and orange on top and ladle hot into punch cups.

Makes enough for 15-20 people – but we always wish we had made more!

Here's another song variation from Hymns and Carols that might have been sung after emptying the wassail bowl.

“Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow
Hats full! caps full!
Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
And my pockets full, too, huzza!

According to Hymns and Carols account of wassailing, "It is supposed that the custom was a relic of the sacrifice to Pomona... [the Roman Goddess of Fruits]"

Later wassailing turned into more "luck" visits than wassailing the trees. That is people imbibed heartily and then went door to door wassailing.

Songs for this purpose included:

Good master and mistress,
While you're sitting by the fire,
Pray think of us poor children,
Who are wandering in the mire.
From: Hymns and Carols

So there we have the "when we go wassailing" variety.

At any rate, here at Seven Trees, we're very interested in taking up some of the traditions of our forebearers. Rather than trying to sort out old calendar date or new, we'll be wassailing our trees on Solstice, or on the night of December 21st this year.

So waes hael, and drinc hael! We'll see you then at our old apple tree...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Latest Pest: Kitchen rats!! (Kittens!)

Ever have trouble with these?
Little closer for more detail. Little pests are into everything... even freshly cleaned brewing equipment waiting to be put up. Ah well... what's another scrubbing or three?

A rare moment of rest. Thing about kitchen rats is they never slow down... this is indeed a rare moment.

The moment of quiet lasted about 5 seconds before they were back sidling under the kitchen cupboards, and climbing the walls. But look at how peaceful and cute they CAN be. Albeit rarely.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving thanks for kittens and beer!

I added a loft to the kitten pen so they could have a little more playroom. They are still a long ways off from being able to rampage through the house unsupervised.
Time to bottle the cream ale. Can't get much done until the brewery inspectors sign off on everything.

And Magnus Brewster, getting a few more hours of apprentice training under his belt. He'll no doubt be big enough to stir the brew kettle by summer.

Look at these most excellent floor polishers. A wonderful addition to any brew kitchen cleaning regimen!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What's so awful about offal?

What in the world is in this cooler?? Cougar bait? Stewart's latest victim?

It's offal, the old-fashioned term for assorted animal innards. Above is the liver of a large, healthy, grass-fed cow. It weighs about 15lbs. and we have 3 of them in the freezer now.

Here is one of the 3 hearts we were given along with the livers, by a very generous co-worker. Most of the sliced, bagged & frozen goodies will be made into tasty treats for the dogs, but some will be used in top-secret liverwurst experiments like this one:

Saute in 2 T butter: 1 medium onion and 1 large or two small cloves garlic, crushed. Add 3/4 lb liver, 1/2 lb heart (you can substitute ground beef or round steak for heart) and 1/4 cup of water. Cover tightly and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put this mixture in a blender and add the following: 2 T spicy brown mustard (Dijon), 1/4 t pepper, 1 t salt, 1/2 t lemon pepper, 2 hardboiled eggs, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 t vinegar, 1/2 t sugar, 1/4 cup water. Blend till smooth, chill and serve on thinly sliced hard bread or crackers. Enjoy! Note: This liverwurst is a light brown. If you want you can substitute 1/4 cup beet juice (from fresh cooked or canned beets) for the last 1/4 cup water and the 1/2 t sugar to make the color more appealing.

Cleverly hiding from all the carnage is Magnus. Obviously, no one can see him in the special kitty toy basket!

And never one to pass up an opportunity for miscreance, Mercia decided to curl up for a nap in a mixing bowl I set down for a nanosecond.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cougar sighted!

Actually more than just sighted. A neighbor just down the road dropped by. He wanted to alert us that a cougar attacked a mare just around the corner from us... fortunately she survived. He also said though that there were some dogs also killed by a cougar about 1/4 mile away. Must be a hungry one to be coming so close to more habited areas for feeding.
There's a large stand of woods across the road from us that runs uninterrupted right down to the Nooksack river, so it's probably a happy hunting ground if you're a big cat.

While we have some pretty good fencing here, there'll be no more turning off the porch light at night! We'll want to keep a close eye on our cow for sure, plus cats and dogs as well.
We have heard from locals that the black bears have been thin and lacking food this year, so maybe cougars are in the same state.
During our time in Eastern Washington we've seen cougars up close and personal. J even got to see one with a kitten cub hang out by our creek for a day. No troubles then with our livestock, so here's hoping that our luck holds true!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stormy weather!

Yet another November windstorm. It blew all night, paused for breath about 7am, then let loose with 80mph gusts and knocked trees down (and power out) all over the county. We spent part of the morning chasing greenhouse parts and trying to keep it from disintegrating. That's one way to get a workout!

These downed trees happen to be on our road, not quite 1/2 mile away. No sign of repair crews, and the power company's update page says Whatcom and Thurston counties won't have power any time soon. So the generator is running and we've switched over to dark-ages-peasant mode.

And here are the little felions, taking a break from their sibling gladiator matches. At least we can watch kittens by candlelight til the power comes back on. They went to the vet today and got a clean bill of health (and we got the none too tiny bill!).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Say hello to Mercia and Magnus...

This is what happens when you find a lost cat, drop it at the shelter, then decide to drop by the shelter "just to be sure" they came and got her, even though you heard the owners came and claimed their cat. Then while there, you went by to see the kittens available for adoption, and see so many babies that need someone to care that you could just weep. There were any of a dozen or more kittens we could have picked as equally deserving of care. Alas that we can't save them all, but had to make a choice. These two were beautiful as you can see, a brother and sister, healthy, and spent the majority of the time pouncing on one another in play. Seemed like they'd do a lot of self entertaining because of this. They were also both already fixed. Still I can't articulate how hard it was to turn our backs on all those other little kitties just begging with their eyes for us to save them too.

Hopefully the other Seven Trees residents will accept them, especially our two older cats who are none too pleased at this juncture. With a little time though I am certain everyone will adapt to the new Seven Trees family members.

According to the shelter staff, any of the cats or kittens we visited who haven't been adopted by November 30th, will be euthanized.

Maybe instead of spending money this holiday season on the usual glut of gifts for people who have so much it's hard to even figure out what to buy them... I think that we should all agree to instead spend that money on going to our local animal shelters and giving the gift of life to some poor kitten, puppy, dog or cat, or other animal of your choice that sits there on death row.

It'll be a lifetime commitment, but but your love will be returned a thousand times over, and think how much more meaningful a gift that'd be for all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Barn Gutter at last!

Stella is always happy to model anything new, especially when it involves hay... even a new gutter. The front of the barn was a muck pit, thanks to me taking so long to get this installed, but better late than never I suppose. The rain water is set up to fill Stella's trough, at least until it's warm enough to bring a hose back outside. We placed the heated bucket where her trough used to be, because we really should be seeing some freezing weather soon. And snow too!

Can you spot her baby bulge? I think she looks in remarkably good shape for 5 months along.

Just another barn perspective with the gutter in place. Who'd have guessed that this is about all the major projects we'd get done this summer. It's sure nicer than last year, when we had half the space, and rain would blow in on the hay. Not such a good thing. This year the hay is high and dry.

And if you need a laugh... can you spot the DE-luxe carport in this picture? Our neighbors in back put this up a few days ago. I just laughed, and said, wait until the first wind storm! Just so happens we had one last night. Oopsie-poopsie.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's official - Stella's pregnant!

Image From: Linda's Learning Links

The vet was out this week to give Stella a check up and confirm that she's actually pregnant. The good news is that we have a very healthy mama-to-be cow. So far she hasn't started mooing for pickles and ice cream, but there was one incident of hay-bale vandalism when I left the haw mow open.

More news this weekend, including the new kitten debate - should we or shouldn't we add a pair of little feline monsters to the madhouse....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Flocking around

Del has been released back into the general population after a stint in the brig for ungentlemanly conduct toward the ladies. It must have been an adolescent burst of hormones, because he seems to be settling down nicely. Look at the size difference between Del & Toshi!

Here's Toshi showing how a real rooster does his job. He's found some kind of yummy bug and is feeding it to Neil after calling her over with a special 'come & get it' sound. Hopefully Del is taking notes, since he hasn't quite progressed to Toshi's level of excellence yet.

Can you spot the fluffy Red Star hineys as they disappear into the depths of the berry patch? The flock has a regular route through the yard and they really look forward to their afternoons as groundskeepers. Egg production is starting to taper off with the length of daylight, but we plan ahead for that by stockpiling eggs in the fridge.

The American Egg Board says : "The oil coating which seals the shell's pores helps to prevent bacteria from entering the egg and reduces moisture loss from the egg. RAW SHELL EGGS REFRIGERATED IN THEIR CARTONS WILL KEEP FOR ABOUT 4 TO 5 WEEKS BEYOND THE PACK DATE WITHOUT SIGNIFICANT QUALITY LOSS. (The pack date is usually a number from 1 to 365 representing the day of the year starting with January 1 as 1 and ending with December 31 as 365.)"
Imagine how much fresher our gals' eggs are, coming right out from under the hen each day! One reason it's so important to keep the nest boxes clean is that washing the eggs really shortens the keeping time. So the cleaner they come from the coop, the better, since we don't wash them until it's time to use them (if at all). Another thing about extemely fresh eggs is that they don't peel well once they're boiled. There is no air gap between egg white and membrane, so it sticks and peels very messily. So we have to remember to save some back to age a bit if we want decent hard-boiled eggs. And each hen lays different kinds of eggs. Some have thicker shells, some have thicker membranes, smooth shells, spotted shells, and so on. We can pretty much tell which hen laid what egg, with such a small flock.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cats are not tissue paper

I found a lost or what I thought to be abandoned or dumped cat last week when I got to work. It was solid black, and friendly enough to come up to me, and since it was right before Halloween I was immediately afraid someone might hurt her. Plus, how could I turn my back on a hungry sad critter like that?

Fortunately for me I work a place I was able to keep kitty with me for the duration of my shift. Another co-worker got her food, and we debated if any of us could keep her. Eventually it appeared I was the only one willing to take her home, though my house is small and I already have two cats... so I had some reservations on the matter.

As the night progressed, kitty ate, drank a great deal of water, then complained, wanting to go, until she finally used the litter we'd provided her in the form of a cut down box with soil from outside in it. She settled right down after that and rested, washing a lot and biting on herself like she probably had a good number of fleas. Finally she just slept all out, crashed, sound asleep, even when a number of people came and went from my work space. She was obviously pooped.

I had noticed that one of her eyes was a bit teary, and as she rested her nose got a little snotty/crusty. I began to worry she might have a feline upper respiratory infection or something worse like feline distemper, which in turn made me fear it could be spread to my very healthy kitties should I bring her home.

At any rate, when I went home... kitty still came with, and was isolated in a cat carrier placed in our small spare bedroom now pantry storage, for the rest of the night. At first I discussed the cat with my partner, whether we might be exposing our cats to some illness, if we could afford the vet bills if this cat were very ill, and the time it would take to first isolate her, then eventually introduce her to our animals. I started to think it was more than we were up to, risk wise, energy wise and financially. It was an agonizing night for me as I woke every hour, and that little black cat was always my first thought.

The next morning I talked again with my partner. We decided the safest option for our cats was to take kitty to the shelter. Here she is that morning, dozing, before I took her there.

I felt horrible about the choice, but I took her in, and wept as I left her with the shelter staff.

She was never far from my thoughts for the next 48 hours. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer, and called the shelter. They said she probably didn't have any illnesses, and had been given her shots. By middle of the next week she'd be out for adoption, if no one claimed her. At this juncture my partner and I had talked extensively, and knew we'd be there to fill out an adoption application for the little black cat... as insane as it was. I just couldn't bear the thought of her being put to sleep should no one else want her.

Then a miracle occurred. Her people came by my work looking for her. My co-worker called me at home, since it was my day off with the news. Apparently as rough as she looked kitty had a home, but perhaps had run off because of heat, since the shelter said she hadn't been spayed yet. At any rate, I provided them all the info about her where abouts, so hopefully there was a happy reunion yesterday afternoon or soon will be today.

I must confess I am stopping by the shelter next Wednesday, when the shelter said she'd be out for adoption, just to be sure they came and claimed her.

Many people think that because cats are independent, then they can survive on their own should they be dumped, left behind in a move, or in some other way abandoned. This is patently false. Just because a cat isn't as obseqious as say a dog, means no such thing. Humans domesticated cats at least 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians of course revered cats for their hunting abilities, and rodent killing skills as much as their companionship. It was a crime in Egypt to kill a cat, punishable by death, even if it were an accident. People there also shaved their brows to show grief when their household cat died, and the cats were buried as lavishly and honorably as any person.

Temple of Bastet : Egyptian Bast Goddess Statue

By Carrie Hawks

Cats need us to care for them, and depend on us to be good pet parents. Unfortunately these days we've forgotten our reverence for most of nature to include our pet cats. No one knows how many, but there are millions of feral cats in the United States, simply because humans fail to spay or neuter their cats, then abandon them to the streets. Feral cats have short, painful lives and often die from malnutrition, disease, exposure, by car accidents, or predation.

Cats are not tissue paper. Please think before you get a pet cat... can you provide kitty vet care, spay/neuter, keep s/he inside where they are safest, feed, love and honor them, as in their own kitty way they will you? If yes, please, please adopt as many kitties as you can properly care for. Far too many must be euathanized each day for want of a loving home as it is, and they need us!

If you cannot commit to 12 - 15 years of having a cat, which is their average life span, to healthy food, water, shelter, veternarian care, and most of all love of your cat, then do everyone, including yourself a favor, and don't get one. No pet deserves that kind of poor treatment, or abuse, least of all a cat.


My pussycat sings his song to me.

He always sings at half past three.

He sings of tins of tuna fish,

And chicken pieces in a dish,

And when my pussycat's sung to me,

I go to get my pussycat's tea.

Always be kind to your pussycat,

Whatever he may do.

Your pussycat loves you and always will,

Your pussycat's faithful and true.

~ David Harper ~