Syllabubs and possets are English dairy
dishes which probably first evolved during the sixteenth century. Syllabubs
were made from cream and wine and were served cold. Possets were
frothy spiced custards made with cream, wine and eggs and were usually
served hot. Because they were cold, syllabubs could be served in
delicate glass pots without any fear of the glass cracking.
On the other hand, piping hot possets had to be consumed from
much more durable ceramic pots, like those illustrated on the right.
The sketch above illustrates a group
of seventeenth and early eighteenth century syllabub pots and glasses.
At this period the liquid part of the syllabub was sucked through a
spout and the froth eaten with a spoon. During the course
of the eighteenth century, the spout dissappeared and syllabubs were
consumed from glasses like that in the colour photograph
at the top of the opposite column.
Draining syllabub froth on a
sieve before floating it on the sweet wine in the syllabub glass.
Seventeenth century syllabubs, like
Hannah Wooley's quoted opposite, were usually whisked up into
a froth and allowed to separate in the pot overnight. During the eighteenth
century, the froth was usually laid spoon by spoon on a sieve and allowed
to drain, as in the illustration above. The resulting ethereal spume
was then floated on glasses of sweetened wine or coloured whey and
served on a salver. This is beautifully illustrated in a painting by
Philip Mercier called The Sense of Taste
- see the detail below.
Click the salver of syllabubs
to see Mercier's painting
During the second
half of the eighteenth century, the quantity of wine was reduced allowing
the syllabub to be whipped up into a thick lather, rather like modern
whipped cream. This was known as an everlasting syllabub.
Click the posset pot to go to
whipt syllabub in a syllabub glass contemporary with the Charles Carter
recipe below (1749). Behind are two posset pots and a sack bottle from
the seventeenth century.
|To make a very fine Sillibub
Take one Quart of Cream,
one Pint and an half of Wine or Sack, the Juice of two Limons with some
of the Pill, and a Branch of Rosemary, sweeten
it very well, then put a little of this Liquor, and a little of the Cream
into a Basin, beat them till it froth, put that Froth into the Sillibub
pot, and so do till the Cream and Wine be done, then cover it close,
and set it in a cool Cellar for twelve hours, then eat it.
From Hannah Wooley The
Queen-like Closet (London:1674)
|To make whipt syllabubs
Take a quart of thick
cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges, or
lemons; grate in the peel of two lemons; half a pound of double-refined
sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first
sweeten some red wine, or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you
chuse; then as the froth rises take it off with a spoon, and lay it carefully
into your glasses, till they are as full as it will hold.
Carter The London
and Country Cook (London:
|On the left - a syllabub glass with a bell top c. 1770 filled with a whip syllabub floating on sweet wine. On the right - a George Ravenscroft syllabub glass c. 1690s filled with a syllabub made from a recipe in Sir Kenelm Digby, The Closet etc. (London: 1670). Digby explains how Lady Middlesex put a sprig of rosemary in each of the 'little glasses with spouts' before the mixture was poured in. Note how the syllabub has separated into two layers - the frothy curd above and the strongly alcoholic liquid below.
Hale's "syllabub pumping engine"
|Syllabub Historical Notes
normally whipped to a froth with a birch whisk or a chocolate mill. This
was a laborious and time-consuming task. In 1758, one Dr Hayles, who
worked for the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral invented an 'engine'
for speeding up the process. It was described by the Canon of Winchester
in the same year,
"Dr Hayles hath actually published what
has been for some time talked of, a tube of tin with a box of the same
at the lower end of it... that is full of small holes. This engine, with
the help of a pair of bellows, blows cream up into syllabub with great
Ivan has reconstructed Dr Hayle's engine
and has found it works very efficiently. Book on to a Historic
Food Dairy Course and discover how to use it.
During the eighteenth century
syllabubs were an important feature of the dessert course. They were
frequently served on tiers of salvers, often with jellies. Towards
the end of the century ice cream became increasingly popular in England,
evcntually usurping the syllabub's role as a light refreshment at
the end of the meal. Click the syllabub below to find out much more
about this wonderful dessert dish.