Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Syllabub Anyone?...18th Century Festive Holiday Drinks

"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 
Ah, 'tis the season for raising a toast of good cheer or simply sipping something warm and wonderful by candlelight or a crackling fire. The 18th century had its share of Christmas "spirits" whose tasty descendants still grace our tables and tickle our taste buds today. One of these that made its way from 16th century Tudor England into my own 20th century North Carolina childhood is that creamy, luscious concoction known as Syllabub, a frothy blend of sweetened wine or cider and rich cream. I had such fond memories of this holiday treat, I even named a dear, big, beautiful Maine Coon Cat of mine, "Sir Syllabub" ("Bubba" for short.)

Syllabub. The origins of the name are speculative but it's so much fun to say aloud, isn't it? Rolls around your tongue and then just pops right out. A multi-syllabic party in your mouth! Syllabub was a very popular, festive beverage in 18th century Colonial America, as well as in Great Britain, and many recipes of the period show a goodly amount of variations on the theme. There are even recipes that involve milking a cow directly over a bowl of sweetened wine or cider. I think I'll pass on that one this year, thank you very much. There are two basic forms of Syllabub, one in which the sweetened wine/fruit juice is whipped into heavy cream in such a way as to remain consolidated, and one in which the liquid drains out of the mixture leaving the wine in the bottom of the glass and the thick cream on top. For this latter method, there were special Syllabub drinking vessels with a spout from which one could drink the liquid and use a spoon for the creamy froth on top. 

North Carolina Scuppernong Grapes,
 photo by Kathryn Louise Wood
My childhood memories are of the type that stays consolidated, served chilled, and is a cross between a drink and a dessert to be eaten with a spoon. Now, my family's roots are of the tea-totaling Methodist and Baptist variety and alcohol was not considered acceptable holiday fare so our Syllabub was made with "soft" cider made from apples or Scuppernong grapes. HOWEVER...once in a while (no one claims to know exactly how it happened) that cider might sit in the pantry for quite a spell waiting for Christmas and could (under just the right, mysterious circumstances) have a little extra kick about it, bordering on the "hard" side. When that happened, there would be a bit more of the "silly" in the Syllabub.

In the weeks to come I will share other 18th century holiday recipes but, for now, I will give you directions from some historic cookbooks for Syllabub. You may adapt these instructions with modern methods and ingredients and still enjoy a traditional treat with which your ancestors would feel at home. The first is closer to the kind of Syllabub of my youth (replacing the wine-- Rhenish and sack-- with "soft" cider...of course...) The second is of the liquid on the bottom, cream on the top variety.

"To Make Everlasting Syllabubs"
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, London 1758

~Take five half pints of thick cream, half a pint of Rhenish, half a pint of sack, and the juice of two large Seville Oranges; grate in just the yellow rind of three lemons and a pound of double-refined sugar well beat, and sifted. Mix all together with a spoonful of orange flower water, beat it well together with a whisk half an hour, then with a spoon fill your glasses. These will keep above a week, and is better made the day before.~

"Lemon Syllabub"
Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, London 1784
Detail from"The Sense of Taste" by Philip Mercier (circa 1689-1760) 

~Put a pint of cream to a pint of white wine, then rub a quarter of a pound of loaf sugar upon the out rind of two lemons, till you have got out all the essence, then put the sugar to the cream, and squeeze in the juice of both lemons, let it stand for two hours, then mill them with a chocolate mill, to raise the froth, and take it off with a spoon as it rises, or it will make it heavy, lay it upon a hair sieve to drain, then fill your glasses with the remainder, and lay on the froth as high as you can, let them stand all night and they will be clear at the bottom.~

Enjoy your Syllabub mustaches!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now! 

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