Antique syllabub glasses – very like parfait or soda glasses – they were also used for jellies.

Some by the banks of Thames their pleasure taking,
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.

Britannia’s Remembrances – George Wither – 1628

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.

“Syllabub straight from the cow” – The Russel and Rivett Families in a Landscape
Charles Phillips (1708-1747)
Photo: The Chequers Trust

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.

Dr Hales’ invention rid milk of the taint of the wild garlic or turnips that cows had been fed. It was also good for whipping up syllabubs. A bellows would be inserted into the tube at top.

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.

A satirical print on the army of the day recruiting candy, jellies and syllabubs and standing guard over a fashionable sweet shop.
James Gillray – 1797 – ©British Museum with permission.

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,
For very joy begins to leap;
Her elbow small she oft did rub,
Tickled with hope of syllabub.

The Long Vacation in London – Sir William D’Avenant – circa 1630

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????

Il cibo della nonna*

Italian Comfort Food

In our household the first question asked as coffee is poured in the morning is normally, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” As I wrote this I realized it sounded a bit like the lady of the manor consulting with the cook for that day’s menu, I’ll leave it to you to decided who is playing which role in that little playlet.

And it seems that lately “what’s to eat?” is becoming the burning question of the day. And looking at the five or six food sites that I visit on YouTube the trend seems to be going to good old fashioned comfort foods. Recipes that we grew up with and are familiar in an ever stranger world.

The various digital editions of media that still have food features have been creating lists of recipes to get you through the week. Rachel Roddy lives in Rome and writes for The Guardian. On occasion I have used her recipes but this week in her Italian Recipes for the Lockdown she has some real classics which she tells us are made from ingredients found in your pantry or larder. Well maybe a Roman pantry or larder! Though sure enough we did have all the ingredients for her version of Pollo alla cacciatora except the small chilli pepper but she gave a perfectly good substitute of a pinch or two of dried chilli.

Photo from Un dentista ai fornelli

Where, you might ask, are the tomatoes, mushrooms, onions or red pepper? Well this recipe is Alla Romano and there isn’t a tomato in sight. It depends on very few things – quality chicken, good olive oil, premium black olives, garlic, a sprig of fresh rosemary and red wine vinegar. And it is the ultimate cibo della nonna*.

Pollo alla cacciatora (Hunter’s chicken)

Serves 4
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1.5 kg chicken (a small one, jointed, or a mixture of legs and thighs)
2 garlic cloves
1 small chilli pepper, or good pinch of dried chilli
A sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt and black pepper
250ml white wine, plus extra if needed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
A handful of pitted black olives

1 Cut the chicken into about 12 pieces (I ask my butcher to do this). In a deep sauté pan with a lid, large enough to fit the meat in a snug, single layer, warm the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the meat pieces, skin-side down and cook until the skin forms a golden crust, then turn them over and do the same on the other side. This will take about 15 minutes.

2 While the meat is browning, chop the garlic, chilli and needles from the rosemary sprig very finely. Once the meat has browned, sprinkle with the chopped garlic, chilli and rosemary, season with salt and pepper, pour over the white wine, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.

3 Cook the meat, turning from time to time, until the thighs feel very tender when prodded with a fork, and the meat is surrounded by thick gravy – 45–75 minutes depending on the chicken. If the pan seems a little dry, add a little more wine.

4 In the last minutes of cooking add the vinegar and the olives, stir, and cook for a minute more, before dividing between warm plates.

Recipe from Rachel Roddy – A Kitchen in Rome
The Guardian – March 30, 2020

Photo from: Un dentista ai fornelli
  • I’m not sure what 12 pieces her butcher cuts the chicken up into but all I could get out of mine was two legs, two thighs, two wings, two breasts cut in half crosswise. That makes ten pieces by my count; if anyone has any idea where the other two came from let me know.
  • Of course you can use a combination of thighs, legs, breasts from the supermarket if you aren’t as lucky as Ms Reddy to have an accomodating butcher.
  • It may seem like an awful lot of olive oil but it turns into a tasty sauce when combined with the white wine, chicken fat, chilli, garlic and rosemary.
  • Make sure the chicken is dry so the skin will turn golden and not stick to the pan.
  • That addition of red wine vinegar at the end sounds a bit strange but it gives a bit of punch to the sauce, don’t omit it.
  • The reheated leftovers the next day suggested it could be made ahead and served at a company – when we finally can have company – dinner. I’d reheat the sauce gently and then warm the chicken pieces in it.

* Grandma’s home cooking. The ultimate Italian comfort food!

The word for April 5th is:
Comfort Food /ˈkəmfərt fo͞od/: [compound noun]
Nourishment that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, often associated with childhood or home cooking.
The term has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”
Well we pretty much got severe emotional stress happening on a big scale so …. time for some “comfort food”.

Thought for Food

‘cuz I eats me spinach!

I wonder how many of us were told “eat your spinach and you’ll be as strong as Popeye”? And how many, in trusting innocence, bought it? Oh foolish gullible young ‘uns! Oh perfidious parents. It turns out that that whole story about spinach containing enough iron to make you strong was based on a miscalculation in measurements someone did back in 1870. Fortunately Isabelle never played that number on me or served that glop that Popeye squeezed out of a can and into his gaping gullet – the man had no gag reflex! Which also begs the question if he had the strength to knock the top of a can with one squeeze why did he need the extra iron? Okay maybe I’m overthinking this.

A few facts about Spinach that you may not know or really care to, but here they are anyway:

  • It originated in Persia almost two centuries ago and made its way to India and China via Nepal.
  • It was introduced into Sicily during the Saracen invasions in the 9th century and became a staple of the local cuisine.
  • As the Arabs moved further west it was brought to Spain and is often cited in Arabic agricultural, medical, and kitchen texts of the 10th-14th centuries.
  • It raised its leafy head in France and England around 1400 and was a popular vegetable in early spring when everyone was sick and tired of shrivelled up turnip!
  • Recipes for spinach appear in the first known English cookbook – The Forme of Cury (c.1390)
  • In the First World War wounded French soldiers were given wine fortified with spinach juice. The juice is high in vitamin K that aids in the coagulation of blood.
  • A rather startling – and perhaps unsettling thought – 92% of the spinach in the world market is grown in China.
  • And finally on that iron thing – you noticed that Popeye ate cooked canned spinach. Raw spinach contains oxalate that binds with iron and renders much of it unusable by the body. Sorry there’s a reason you’re in psychoanalysis – your parents lied! What can I say?

“And why these ramblings about Spinacia oleracea?” my faithful, if slightly bemused, reader might ask. Well as I said Isabelle never included it as part of our daily bread so it wasn’t until I was out of the house and on my own that I discovered it as other than a cartoon green. It began showing up raw in what were viewed as sophisticated salads in 70’s households where iceberg lettuce was fast loosing its status. My first taste of it as a cooked vegetable was a Julia Child recipe for Grated Zucchini and Spinach which became a standard (and easily prepared) side. And then there was the signature “creamed spinach” with the incredible ribs at The Fireplace Inn on North Wells in Chicago. Another easy-peasy and adaptable recipe.

We hadn’t had creamed spinach in a long, long time so on Saturday night I thought it would be a great side to go with our steaks. A sidebar on the steaks we get most of our meat these days from Steerman’s a local family operated farm. Their bacon-wrapped steaks are melt in your mouth tasty. But I digress. So creamed spinach it was to be.

This time of year the frozen spinach is the best bet and one of the supermarkets here has a brand from France??? A quick cook and squeeze out of the frozen greens, a basic cream bechamel sauce with a dash of tabassco and a few grinds of nutmeg, some salt and pepper and “la viola*”!

One slight problem: I had made too much! There was a good portion left and we don’t throw away good food in our household, we re-imagine it. Sunday night was homemade pizza night so with a few additions – some sauteed onions and minced garlic, a dash of cream to thin it out, a generous addition of Parmesan – it would be perfect topping for a pizza blanco. Add a few slices of prosciutto after it comes out of the oven and “eccolà”. P.S. It was soooo good.

Another thought struck me for a quick and easy pasta sauce. Poach two chicken breasts in a bit of milk, make a garlicy-oniony version of the creamed spinach thinned out with the poaching milk and tossed with pasta. Don’t know about you but that would have been more tempting to me than some promise of having the cartoon strength of some muscle headed, nicotine addicted celluloid sailor.

*Yes I know Laurent, it should be “la voilà” I was being amusant there.

The word for January 30th is (go figure):
Spinach /ˈspɪn.ɪtʃ/: [noun]
1. an Asian herb (Spinacia oleracea) of the goosefoot family cultivated for its edible leaves which form in a dense basal rosette.
2. something unwanted, pretentious, or spurious; an untidy overgrowth
#1 I’m familiar with; #2 what? Okay maybe “unwanted” on a kid’s dinner plate ergo the great lie but the rest???
Middle English spinache, from Anglo-French, alteration of Old French espinaces, from Medieval Latin spinachium, via Arabic from the Persian aspanakh.

You Say Tomayto

I Say Tomahto*

While thumbing (figuratively of course) through the 50 or 60 uncompleted posts in my Drafts folder I came upon this proposed entry from last fall. Though it was written as fresh tomato season was coming to an end it is not inappropriate to the imminent arrival of the first home-grown tomatoes in the local market.


If muttering those words as I wandered through the produce section were a criminal offence I would have been arrested many times over!  There is nothing more frustrating than being confronted by those pale reddish-pink balls of flannel that appear in most supermarkets here in Canada for what seems like ten months of the year.  Nor is there anything more glorious than the multi-coloured displays – purple to yellow to orange to fire engine red – that greet the tomato lover at farmers’ market during the all too short growing season.  Even the later rainbow display has only become the norm over the past fifteen years with the reintroduction of varieties into the market.

A rack of seeds at a beautiful nursery and garden centre just off the piazza in Sorrento – eleven! count them eleven! types of tomatoes!

One of the joys of living in Italy was the constantly changing variety of tomatoes in the market.  You never went shopping for just a tomato or without knowing what you wanted it for.  There were tomatoes for sauce, tomatoes for roasting, tomatoes for stuffing, tomatoes for salads, tomatoes for soup, tomatoes for sun-drying, tomatoes for pizza toppings, and even tomatoes for hanging.  Yes you did read that right – there is a tomato known as  pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio (small hanging tomato of Vesusius) or simply pomodorino Vesuviano. Whole vines are cut and hung up in bunches in a covered but well ventilated area.  They keep fresh for months, thanks to a thick skin and a strong attachment to their stalks.

Pomodorino Vesuviano Roso in the market.

When the tomato reached Europe from North America somewhere in the 16th century what the Aztec’s knew as xitomatl became tomatl. The French originally called the tomato,  pomme d’amour (love apple) before calling simply it la tomate. Perhaps they changed the name when its claims to be a powerful aphrodisiac proved to be false advertising.  In Italy it was pomi d’oro (golden apple) which today becomes il pomodoro.  And of course it was shunned as being poisonous because of its close relative the deadly nightshade.  However somewhere in Southern Italian someone noticed that it was being eaten by livestock with no noticeable rise in the mortality rate.  It wasn’t killing the animals?  Well let’s see what it does to Zia Giuseppina, she’ll eat anything!  And eccolà!

The last of the heritage tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market???

So why all this ruminating about Solanum lycopersicum even as the (extended) season winds down?  Well on a trip to the Farmers’ Market last week I saw what is probably the last of the season’s harvest and  I thought I should buy and use them while I can.   One recipe that I used I first came across back in Warsaw in 1998 and it became a fast favourite there particularly when a tasty amber gold plum tomato was in season.  I think I may have got it from the Times of London back in the days when their young website was free. Note that the quantities are given in metric followed by an approximation in Imperial.)

Tomato and Arugula Tart with Polenta Crust

150g (5.5 oz) all-purpose flour sifted
75g (2.65 oz) fine polenta
100g (3.53 oz) unsalted butter diced
1 medium egg
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
60g (2.12 oz) freshly grated parmesan
800g (1.39 lbs) vine-ripened tomatoes, thickly sliced, patted dry
100g (3.35 oz) arugula


Preheat oven to 400F.
Briefly process the flour, polenta and butter in a food processor, then add the egg and about 2 tsp oil – enough to bind the dry ingredients. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill briefly. Rollout to fit a shallow 28cm (11″) tart tin, prick the base all over and chill again.

Spread the mustard evenly over the base then top with the cheese. Lay the tomatoes on top in concentric, tight, overlapping circles, so they stand proud. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes then switch off the oven.

Place 75g of the arugula in a processor with 5-6 tbsp olive oil and process until you have a thick but pourable puree. Drizzle this over the tomatoes and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool for 15-20 minutes.

Just before serving season the remaining arugula with salt, pepper, and a little oil. Pile into the middle of the tart.


The recipe also suggested that a mixture of Gruyere and a mild goat cheese can replace the Parmesan. And when I discovered on my return to Canada that arugula, so readily available at our local vegetable stand in Warsaw, wasn’t always available in Ottawa I used Basel and it works beautifully.

Culinary Magic

July 18th is another one of those days we celebrate strange food combinations: Sour Candy and Caviar??? Talk about your “fusion” cuisine!

King Henry’s Tarts

Henry may have lost his head over Anne Bullen but she ultimately returned the favour. This amusing ceramic is by Andrea Kashanipur at Art Knacky. A left click will take you to some of the other creations in her Empire.

No not Tart (a nubile young temptress, who dresses teasingly and provocatively) I mean tart (a small pie filled with cooked fruit or other sweetened preparation, usually having no top crust).  Though if that Tudor series that was so popular a while back is to be believed there were more of the former than the later in Bluff Harry’s 55 year span on this earth.  I’m referring to a tasty little morsel (no not Anne Bullen!  honestly such minds!) that has graced afternoon and high tea tables for well over 500 years in England and even here in her Colonies:  Maids of Honour.

What brought me to investigate this tempting little sweetie (not Catherine Howard either!  Jeesh!) was the passage I quoted from The Good Companions last week.  It described the groaning high tea table at the Second Resurrectionists do in Oxwell as including “piles of jam tarts and maids of honour and cream puffs and almond tarts,”.  So asked a faithful reader in perusing that list: what exactly are Maids of Honour?

Well it turns out that it’s a little bit like a cheesecake and a little bit like a tart.  So what’s the connection with Henry VIII?  Well history – or legend, which is often the same thing – says that on a visit to Anne Bullen during their early courtship the King happened upon Anne and her Maids-of-Honour enjoying a new sweet that a local pastry-cook had offered them.  Eyeing the little tarts (no not Jane Seymour!  You lot are too much!) he ate several and declared them as delicious as Anne and her Maids-of-Honour (Okay maybe even then he was eyeing Mistress Seymour) and immediately demanded the recipe.  There was a rumour that he locked the recipe away and decreed they were for Royal Consumption only – or that he locked the innovative but unfortunate pastry-cook away and only allowed him out to make the tarts at royal whim.   Given the list of ingredients (see below) it’s difficult to imagine who could have afforded to make this little delicacy other than Royals and the nobility?  And  since only the palaces and great houses had ovens – most cooking was still done over, often communal, open hearths – it was to remain a royal treat for a good long time.  Or at least until, according to another story, in the 18th century a lady at court, who had lost a good deal of money at cards, sold the secret to a baker in Richmond.  As with many culinary legends these events are likely apocryphal but they do make for a good story over a nice cup of tea.

maidsAnd that is where they next make their appearance in the history of cookery: in a tea shop.  In 1850 Robert Newens, a young apprentice pastry-cook, took note of their popularity in Richmond  and open a refreshment stop on the road to Kew Gardens serving tea and the royal sweetmeat.   The little tarts were so popular he named his shop after them.  It is only recently that the Newen family ceased to be involved with the The Original Maids of Honour.

Though they have made some controversial changes to the “original” it seems that the Newens family guard the recipe as carefully as did the Royal Gourmand.  Fortunately other cooks are not as secretive and there seem to be as many variations out there as there have been Maids of Honour in the Royal household since Old Coppernose* first consumed them.

The one below is from Traditional Teatime Recipes, a National Trust book  by tea expert Jane Pettigrew  – a compilation from tea rooms at Trust sites throughout the country.  It is unusual in that it is the only one I found that includes cold mashed potatoes in the filling.  This was not unknown as a thickener and filler in many Renaissance recipes – so this may very well be “the original”.

Maids of Honour  – makes 24 tarts

450g (1lb) shortcrust pastry

100g (4oz) curd cheese

75g (3oz) butter, softened

2 eggs, beaten

65ml (2½fl oz) brandy

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) cold mashed potatoes

25g (1oz) ground almonds

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Grated rind of 2 lemons

Juice of 1 lemon

If making your pastry, chill for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease 24 patty tins.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry and cut 24 circles using a 7.5cm( 3in) cutter. Use to line the prepared patty tins. Beat together the curd cheese and butter. Add the beaten eggs, brandy and sugar and beat again. In a separate bowl beat together the mashed potatoes, ground almonds, nutmeg, lemon rind and juice, and gradually mix in the cheese mixture. Beat thoroughly.

Spoon into the pastry cases and bake for 35–40 minutes until risen, golden and firm.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 5–10 minutes before lifting carefully on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Traditional Teatime Recipes – Jane Pettigrew

Once the frenzy of cooking for Thanksgiving is over I’m going to give these a try.

*I had never seen this sobriquet applied to  Henry VIII but it was used derisively by the populace when in 1544 he debased the coinage by reducing the silver content to one third. This had an unfortunate effect: the silver on the nose of his high relief image wore off revealing the copper beneath. This example from the Metropolitan Museum collection seems to be in good condition – on the nose at least.

Henry VIII – Half Groat 1544-47 The Metropolitan Museum NYC

On this day in 1906: San Francisco public school board sparks a diplomatic crisis between the United States and Japan by ordering Japanese students to be taught in racially segregated schools.