Lemon Posset

Possets teeter on the divide between medicine and food. These boozy, herbal, and, in this case, creamy, beverages are refreshing drinks on the one hand, and curative concoctions on the other. We made a “Could Possett” in the early days of this project and I decided that it was high time to try another.

This recipe for “Lemon Posset” comes from MS Codex 785, the source of my recent posts about Mutton with Oyster stuffing and Simnel cake.

The Recipe

lemon posset

Lemon Posset
Take a pint & a half of Cream a pint of Birch or
White Wine the juice of one Lemon, pare one half
of the peel thin and steep it all night in the Wine
and grater the other part when you put the Cream
to in the Morning and Sweeten ’em to your taste
work it in a Jug with a Chocolate Mill and take off
the Froth as it rises.

Our Recipe

1 cup white wine (I used Vino Verde but any decent drinkable will work.)
Grated or zested peel of a whole lemon, divided into two batches
Juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 cups cream
1T sugar (add more or less to taste)

Put half the lemon peel and the white wine in a jug. I used a standard 4-cup mixing jug and covered it with plastic wrap. Let this mixture sit overnight to infuse. You can also let it sit for 6-7 hours during the day if you plan to serve this in the evening.

Before serving, add the remaining lemon peel and lemon juice to the jug. Pour in the cream and whisk vigorously. Skim off rising froth or unpalatable debris. (I did not find his necessary.) Taste the posset. Add sugar, I added one tablespoon, until the posset is sweetened to your taste.

Consume immediately.

The Results

Between the wine and the lemon I expected this posset to curdle, like many hot possets do, but it didn’t. It was like a frothy lemon milkshake, a tangy yogurt lassi, or an herbaceous egg white cocktail. It was sweet even before I stirred in the sugar. I wondered what flavors Birch Wine might contribute to its overall flavor. Then I added an ice cube to my glass and sipped it as I cooked other things.

Although I enjoyed sipping my small glass of posset, I still had quite a bit of it left over. Inspired by its texture and flavor, I decided to put the remaining mix in my ice cream maker and see what happened. I’m pleased to report that lemon posset ice cream is delicious. Since I poured the posset mix straight into the frozen bowl without adding eggs or more sugar, the texture wasn’t as lovely as other ice creams I’ve made. That said, I heartily recommend experimenting with posset ice cream as temperatures rise this summer. Tweak the recipe, follow the instructions on your ice cream maker, and let us know what happens!

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To make Lemmon Cakes

Not all recipes are original. Flipping through MS Codex 785 I was intrigued by this recipe for “Lemmon Cakes.” These lemony sweets are candies, not cakes! But with a little research into the recipe’s ingredients and methods (fair water? candy height? sleek’d paper?) I located its origin: This recipe is a verbatim transcription from Hannah Woolley’s cookery book The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670).

Woolley was already known for her earlier cookery books and this one was reprinted a few times in the last decades of the seventeenth-century. (The full text of the second edition is available here.) It also seems to have been a common book in early American kitchens (more on this here). Woolley’s recipes were certainly a touchstone for cooks in the early decades of the eighteenth-century when this manuscript was most likely compiled. Moreover, our manuscript compiler not only copied the recipe for Lemmon Cakes, but also for a range of other recipes for preserves, biscuits, and other dishes. In the early sections of the manuscript the order matches Woolley’s exactly.

It is not uncommon for manuscripts materials in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to include substantial extracts from printed works. Recipe books are no exception. MS Codex 785 is an intriguing patchwork of recipes from an array of sources, some that I plan to track down soon.

The Recipe

lemmon cakes

To make Lemmon Cakes

Take half a pound of refin’d sugar, put to it –
two spoonfulls of Rose water, as much Orange
flower water and as much fair water, boil to a –
Candy height, then put in the Rine of a Lemmon
grated, and a little Juice, Stirr it well on the
ffire, and drop it on plates or sleek’d paper.

 Our Recipe

Our recipe is very similar. As I mentioned above, with some basic searching it became clear that “fair water” is a  synonym for “clean water”; “candy height” is the moment when the sugar is dissolved but begins to re-form crystals on the sides of your pan; and “sleek’ed paper” is made “slick” in preparation for the hot candy. Woolley also includes a recipe for “plates” or wafer-like bases for candies.

1/2 lb sugar
2T rosewater
2T orange blossom water
2T water
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
baking parchment (or other appropriate surface)

(I made a half batch.)

Put the sugar, scented waters, and water into a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is melted and crystals begin to form on the side of the pot. Add the lemon zest and juice. Heat through and stir.* Pour candy mix onto baking parchment to set. Cut, break, or use another method to shape bite-size candies.

The Results

I am not a skilled candy-maker: I messed up on this one. My “lemon cakes” were more of a caramelized, sweet, lemony brittle. They were relatively tasty to suck on like a lozenge, if in a tangy (partially burned) sort of way. If you know how a thing or two about working with hot sugar, or a least own a candy thermometer, you may fare better with this recipe. I’d be curious to see how other citrus or floral waters and zests would flavor these candies.

Regardless, I’ll be coming back to more recipes from MS Codex 785 and Hannah Woolley’s cookbooks.

*This is the point in the recipe where I think a candy thermometer (or skill) might help.

 

Lemonade

In August I moved to southern California from Philadelphia. Yes, dear readers, while Alyssa and I are still posting recipes we cooked together this summer, still scouring the manuscript archives at Penn in person and through digital surrogates, still scheming up delightful things to cook and share, we’re no longer working side-by-side in the kitchen. To cope with this change and steel myself for an October heatwave in the triple digits, I decided to start my weekend by making lemonade from a recipe in MS Codex 1038.

The Recipe

lemonade

To Make Lemonade.
Hamers-
ley

Boil One Quart of Spring Water, let it stand ’till it is
Milk Warm. Pare five clear Lemons very thin and put the
parings in the warm water. Let it stand all Night, the next
Morning strain off the peel thro’ a fine Lawn Sieve, Squeeze
the Juice of the five Lemons. Strain it and put it in the
Water, put in Eleven Ounces of double Refin’d Sugar, One
Spoonfull of Orange flower water. Mix these well together,
it will be fit for use.

This recipe is wonderfully lazy: Infuse the water with lemons overnight, sweeten and season it in the morning. Sip lemonade all day. Repeat.

I think that there are two valid ways to interpret this recipe’s instructions for preparing the lemons. Both interpretations depend on how one defines the verb “pare.” This recipe is from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and according to The Oxford English Dictionary “pare” was used around this time to describe both slicing and peeling fruit. Here are two approximate paraphrases of the text above:

1) Slice five lemons very thinly and add the slices to the warm water. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze any remaining juice from the lemon slices into the mix.

2) Peel five lemons and add the peel to the warm water. Set five peeled lemons aside. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze the juice from five peeled lemons into the mix.

I decided to proceed with the first interpretation, but I’d be curious to hear from any readers who try the other method of preparation.

I was also curious about the recipe’s specification for “clear lemons.” Other historical recipes like the ones on this blog also require clear lemons. I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary again and found that “clear” was increasingly becoming a synonym for “unbruised” or “unblemished” around the time this recipe book was compiled. Following suit, I selected the best lemons I had on hand for this recipe.

In the past I’ve purchased useful and cheap ($2) orange blossom water from various Indian grocery stores to use in baking and cocktails. My choice to fix this recipe this weekend was partly inspired by finding a bottle of it in my local cheese shop. The Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water is a bit stronger than other floral waters I’ve used in the past and it hold up to the acidity of the lemons in this recipe.

Our Recipe

5 lemons, sliced

1 quart water

11 ounces sugar (1 1/2 c) – or to taste

1 T orange blossom water

ice and/or sparkling water to serve

Day 1:

Boil a quart of water and set aside to cool. Slice five lemons as thin as possible. Let the water cool until it is warm to the touch, but no longer scalding. Add lemons, cover, and let sit overnight.

Day 2:

Strain the lemon mix and squeeze remaining juice from the lemons. Reserve a few slices to garnish your lemonade. Stir in the sugar. Add the orange blossom water.

When I first tasted the unsweetened, electric yellow lemon infusion it was delightfully tart. Normally I don’t like my drinks *too* sweet and I often adjust the amount of sugar in recipes accordingly, but the mixture was so strong I decided to use the full amount this time. The finished lemonade was syrupy and very, very sweet. To my taste, the citrus and floral notes were a bit overwhelmed by the sweetness. With a few ice cubes and a lemon garnish it was much more refreshing. After sipping half my glass, I added a generous pour of sparkling water and found my perfect version of this lemonade. In the future, I might halve the sugar instead.

Still, this lemonade greatly improved my steamy Saturday. If the heat wave holds on for much longer, I might try it again with variations adding like thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, or lemon balm from my garden to the initial infusion, or even swapping out the orange blossom water for rose water.