Some by the banks of Thames their pleasure taking,Britannia’s Remembrances – George Wither – 1628
Some sillibubs amongst the milkmaids making,
With music some upon the waters rowing,
Some to the next adjoining hamlets going:
And Hogsdone, Islington, and Thothnam Court
For cakes and cream, had there no small resort.
Sillibub, Syllibub, Sullybub, Syllabub – choose your spelling but to me it always says “light, frothy, delicious, boozy goodness”. I honestly can’t recall when I first heard of this very old concoction – the earliest mention of it is by Thomas Heywood in 1537 and no I wasn’t around for that – but it is one that I’ve made frequently in the past. It has less than a handful of ingredients, can be made in minutes and ahead of time, is adaptable, and looks and tastes festive.
Syllabub and its warmer cousin Posset were a fine way of using up milk before it soured and to stretch the wine at hand. Sack, the name given to any wine from a Spanish source, was a sweet fortified wine that was the libation of choice for Posset while it is thought that sweet fortified “Sille” wine from the Champagne region of France was the beverage that curdled the milk in a Syllabub. Many recipes mixed wine with sack or even brandy – what ever drink was readily to hand.
As can be gathered from Wither’s description of leisure pastimes often a syllabub was made on the spot direct from the spout, as it were, of one of the cows tended by the milkmaids who peddled their wares in the streets of London. As strange as it may sound to us, women would bring their cows in from the country and provide milk to London households on the spot. The first recipes for syllabub call for warm milk “direct from the cow” with the pot held high over the goblet as it spurted into the wine. Initially cinnamon and nutmeg would be added to the pot to flavour the curdled milk and if a dry wine was used a portion of sugar would sweeten the mixture. Lemon juice was often added to aid the curdling. It was something to be drunk on the spot as a thirst quencher and a holiday treat.
In 1747 Hannah Glasse included a recipe for “every lasting syllabub” in her The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple which including whipping the mixture with a birch whisk for “30 minutes”. The result was poured into special glasses (see photo at the top of the page) and allowed to separate. Less liquid than their predecessor they could be made ahead and enjoyed as a dessert or an afternoon treat. According to her recipe it “it will keep good nine or ten days, and is beßt three or four days old.” Syllabub became extremely popular in Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian England and several time saving kitchen “machines” were invented to aid in frothing and whipping the milk. A Dr Stephen Hales had invented an apparatus for blowing air into milk “thereby to cure the ill Taƒte which is occaƒioned by ƒome Kinds of Food of Cows” which was reputedly used at Kensington Palace to froth the milk for the Royal syllabub.
It seems to have fell out of favour after the First World War but was reintroduced in the 1950s as an elegant, light and easy to prepare end to a dinner party.
There are as many versions of syllabub as there are cooks in the universe but here is a pretty basic recipe.
Syllubub – a simple recipe serving 8
3/4 cup baker’s or super fine sugar
2/3 cups dry white wine*
1/2 cup lemon juice**
1/3 cup Dry Sack or Sherry*
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
2 cups chilled whipping cream
In a medium bowl whisk sugar, wine, lemon juice, sack and lemon peel until sugar has dissolved. In a separate bowl beat whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the wine mixture. Divide the mixture between eight parfait or wine glasses. Cover and refrigerate overnight – during this time the mixture will separate. It can be garnished with lemon peel, berries, a slice of fruit or a sprig of mint.
*Other spirits may be used – dessert wines, Rieslings, liqueurs – an occasional favourite at our house was amaretto with slivered almonds scattered over as a garnish. Stay away from hard liquors such as vodka, gin or rum as they will give it a harsh taste.
**Some people prefer to use orange or a mixture of orange and lemon – Hannah Glasse used the juice of two Seville oranges and the zest of three lemons! The lemons can be omitted if something like amaretto or sweet liqueur is being used.
Now damsel young, that dwells in Cheap,The Long Vacation in London – Sir William D’Avenant – circa 1630
For very joy begins to leap;
Her elbow small she oft did rub,
Tickled with hope of syllabub.
The word for June 26th is:
Milk /mɪlk/: [1. mass noun 2. verb]
1.1 An opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young.
1.2 The white juice of certain plants.
1.3 A creamy-textured liquid with a specific use or ingredient.
2.1 Draw the milk from a mammal for consumption.
2.2 Extract sap, venom or other substance from something.
2.3 Exploit or defraud over a long period of time.
2.4 Get all possible advantage from a situation.
2.5 Elicit and prolong a reaction from an audience.
And I’m still trying to figure out how you “milk” an almond????