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Possets

Pouring the posset

Pouring the hot cream into the sack to make My Lord of Carlisle's Posset, one of Sir Kenelm Digby's posset recipes from his postumously published book, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Kenelm Digby Knight (London: 1670)

The grace of the posset

The 'grace' or foam on top of the posset was eaten with a spoon. The strong alcoholic liquid below was sucked through the spout. At weddings a wedding ring was sometimes thrown into the posset. It was thought that the person who fished it out would be the next to go to the altar.

A well made posset was said to have three different layers. The uppermost, known as 'the grace' was a snowy foam or aereated crust. In the middle was a smooth spicy custard and at the bottom a pungent alcoholic liquid. The grace and the custard were enthusiastically consumed as 'spoonmeat' and the sack-rich liquid below drunk through the 'pipe' or spout of the posset pot.

Fig Sue was a bread posset once served on Good Friday in some parts of the English Lake District. It was made with ale, bread, figs, treacle and nutmeg. The figs were meant to represent the crucifix, which was traditionally thought to have been made with the wood of a fig tree. Fig sue was traditionally served from a 'piggin' or 'bicker', the staved oak vessel in the photograph. It is of interest that this container was known as a 'cog' in Scotland, giving the name to the whisky posset called the bridal cog, still served at Orkney weddings. The cog is passed round the company rather like the old posset pots used to be in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Red Wine Syllabub

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Fig sue.

A Piggin of Fig Sue

The posset recipe below was probably given to the courtier and alchemist Sir Kenelm Digby by Charles Howard, the 1st Earl of Carlisle. After his death, Digby's son allowed the publication of his father's collection of recipes. As well as a number of other posset recipes, this book also includes some directions for making syllabubs.

My Lord of Carlisle's Sack-Posset

Take a pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream put in eighteen yolks of eggs, and eight of the whites; a pint of Sack; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of Sugar into the Wine and Eggs, with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon; set the Bason on the fire with the Wine and Eggs, and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boiling from the fire, pour it on high, but stir it not; cover it with a dish, and when it is settlede, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up.

From Sir Kenelm Digby The Closet (London: 1671)


Posset Historical Notes

In order to keep the posset warm while it was setting, some housewives put the pot close to the fire. Others put it between two cushions. Noblemen like Charles Howard liked their possets to be made with sack. They even perfumed them with musk and ambergris. Poorer people made possets with ale and thickened them with bread - a bread thickened posset of this kind survived into the 1950s in the English Lake District - it was called fig sue. Until the early nineteenth century, possets were the celebration toast at weddings at all levels of society. The only surviving modern relic of this custom is the whisky and cream flavoured 'bridal cog' still served at Orkney weddings.

Sir Kenelm Digby

Sir Kenelm Digby

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