A very happy Winter Solstice to you all! Here in Atlanta this short day is also overcast and gray, so lighting fires and making merry is definitely called for! I am planning a Caroling Party for Monday night, and I’ll have some Wassail and Mulled Cider going for the singers. I covered Wassail in this blog post, along with some historical recipes if you want to check that out. Now I want to cover their richer, creamier cousins: Possets, Syllabubs, and Egg Nog.
In the MIddle Ages, a posset was a warm dish served to invalids, especially those suffering from a fever or with a cold. It is a hot drink with milk, curdled with spiced wine or ale. Egg yolks were often added as a thickener, either as part of the ‘curd’ or to create a smooth thin custard-like drink. During the 18th and 19th centuries, lemons and oranges were used as part of the flavoring, as well as for their acidic juices.
“To Make a Brandy Posset
Boil a quart of cream over a slow fire, with a stick of cinnamon in it, take it off to cool, beat the yolks of six eggs very well, and mix them with the cream, add nutmeg and sugar to your taste, set it over a slow fire, and stir it one way; when it is like a fine thin custard, take it off, and pour it into your tureen or bowl, with a glass of brandy, stir it gently together, and serve it up with tea wafers round it.” The Experienced English-Housekeeper 1782 by Elizabeth Raffald
A syllabub is made with similar ingredients, although it can be much more solid, even molded into a form. There is one account from the pre-Civil War South about a syllabub served during a wedding:
“Harking back to the supper table – syllabub, as nearly as I recall, was made of thick cream lightly reinforced with stiffly beaten white of egg – one egg-white to each pint – sweetened, well flavored with sherry or Madeira wine, then whipped very stiff, and piled in a big bowl, also in goblets to set about the bowl, just as snow balls were set a-row about the stacks and the bride’s cake. Flecks of crimson jelly were dropped on the white cream – occasionally, there were crumbled cake, and cut up fruit underneath. Thus it approximated the trifle of the cook books. It had just one draw-back – you could not eat it slowly – it went to almost nothing at the agitation of the spoon.” Dishes and Beverages of the Old South, 1913 by Martha McCulloch-Williams
Our now-popular Egg Nog probably gets its name from a small cup called a noggin. (Or maybe from mixing eggs and sailor’s watered rum also known as ‘grog’).
Here is a lighter “White Nogg” for invalids:
“White Egg Nogg: For invalids, especially fever patients. Whip the white of a new laid egg as stiff as possible with the least suspicion of salt. Add to it three heaping spoonfuls of sterilized cream whipped light, beat in two tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar, then add a gill of the best French brandy. A variant is to omit the sugar and mix with the frothed egg and cream more than a gill of Vermouth, using French or Italian, according to taste.”
One last historic recipe for Egg Nog, this time from a turn-of-the-century book touting the benefits of nuts. A dairy-free, coconut milk based egg nog! (Why did it take so long for this product to hit the shelves?)
“Egg Nog No. 1.
Take ½ tumbler of cocoanut cream, add it to one teaspoonful of granulated sugar, the yolk of one egg, and beat with a fork until creamy. Beat the whites of an egg and a pinch of salt to a stiff froth, adding one teaspoonful of granulated sugar. Put two thirds of the beaten white in the tumbler with the other mixture and work together. Then put the remaining third on top and serve at once.” – Guide For Nut Cookery, 1899 by Mrs. Almeda Lambert
With safety concerns today about using raw eggs, you will probably want to follow the recipes that call for cooking the eggs, or you can buy the pasteurized eggs in cartons in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
However you like it, remember to have plenty on hand to offer to the carolers that show up at your door, or just to have to sip by yourself by the old Yule fire.