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Syllabubs and Possets

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.

Syllabub pots and glasses

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.

Syllabub and syle

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.

A salver of syllabubs

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.

Polychrome Posset Pot

Click the posset pot to go to the Posset Recipe Page

Possets and Syllabub

Above A 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.

From Charles Carter The London and Country Cook (London: 1749)

Syllabub glasses

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.


Dr Hale's Syllabub Engine

Above Dr Hale's "syllabub pumping engine"
Syllabub Historical Notes

Syllabub was 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 expedition".

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.

An eighteenth century dessert

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.

Red Wine Syllabub

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