How to make a London Possett

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the conference Intoxicating Spaces: Global and Comparative Perspectives and sharing my research on a recipe for “The Ice Cream” that I posted here two years ago. The ice cream recipe is from a manuscript that was compiled and used by Elisabeth Hawar around 1687, and it includes two London addresses. The recipe book is now held at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library (fMS.1975.003). In my paper, I tried to locate Elisabeth Hawar’s recipe book in the mercantile communities of Shoreditch and Spitalfields in East London at the end of the seventeenth century.

Hawar’s book has another, intriguing London reference: a recipe for “How to make a London Possett.” I’m not sure, exactly, why this posset recipe is specific to London, but it’s certainly another link between Hawar’s manuscript and the city where she lived, cooked, and ate. I didn’t have time to speak about the posset at the conference — there’s always a lot to say about ice cream! — but I wanted to share some thoughts about testing Hawar’s posset recipe here.

Original Recipe

How to make a London Possett
2x
Take a pint of sack & 12 eggs, beat them very well both
whites & yolkes, then strain them & put the sack & eggs
togather, & sweeten it with sugar & Nutmegg as you
please, & sett it ouer the fire keeping it stirring till it be
scalding hot then take it of the fire & put in a quart
of Creame boyling hott, holding your hand as high as
you can in the pouring of it, then give it a stir &
couer it close with a plate, & let it alone till it be like
Cheese, & if it shoud not come set it on a gentle fire
till it begins to Corn.

A word of warning: As curious as I was about this recipe, my recipe trial didn’t quite work. There were many clumps of eggs in the finished posset, but no pleasant “cheese.” I can think of a number of reasons for the failure of the recipe trial to produce what Hawar describes. I suspect the biggest culprits were my twenty-first century ingredients: modern sherry substituted for seventeenth-century sack, egg size and moisture differences, cream pasteurization and homogenization. I also wonder if a tall thin, cooking pot might have enabled the ingredients to separate differently. Finally, it was a hot day in Philadelphia which may have impacted the ingredients and the finished product. 

Updated Recipe

This recipe is halved from the original and did no produce the desired “cheese.” I invite you to use it as a starting point and share the results of your own recipe trials in the comments.

1/2 cup sherry

3 eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 tablespoon nutmeg, freshly grated

1 cup cream

Beat the eggs together. Add sack, sugar, and nutmeg to the eggs.

Pour this mixture into a medium size pot. Gently heat to body temperature. Do not allow the eggs to cook.

In a separate, smaller pot, boil the cream.

Pour the cream into the egg and sack mix from a high hight.

Cover the posset with a lid and let it cool. A cheesy layer of eggs and cream should form on the top.

Sip and enjoy.

Margaret Baker’s sacke possett & fine biskett, or a year with Folger MS V.a.619

It’s an interesting experience to spend months with a single recipe book. This year I collaborated with an undergraduate student, Rachael Shulman, on a year-long research project centered around Margaret Baker’s recipe book which is held at the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS V.a.619). Working with the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective (EMROC) transcription interface maintained by the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project (EMMO), Rachael and I began with transcription basics, preliminary readings, and went from there. We transcribed together and separately, we read widely and developed our own projects from the manuscript, and we’re still working on a series of blog posts (stay tuned) and an article from our shared inquiry. This spring, Rachael was awarded an award for Information Literacy by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries for her poster presentation at the annual research fair. It’s been energizing to see this manuscript through Rachael’s eyes as well as my own.

I’m thankful to the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program (ACURA) for supporting our collaboration and for funding our trips to the Kislak Center at UPenn and the Folger to look at an array of recipe books. I’m especially thankful to the Folger for allowing Rachael to see Baker’s manuscript in person after she’d spent endless hours looking at it on a computer screen. I’m excited to continue working on this project with Rachael, and other students, in the fall.

While Rachael’s research has focused on Baker’s medicinal recipes (which make up the majority of the volume), I decided to prepare two of Baker’s culinary recipes a few months ago.  I opted for a posset and a biscuit.  Alyssa and I have previously made possets and biscuits, but these versions stood out to me. We’ve made a “Could Posset” and a “Lemon Posset,” but not a “Sacke Posset.” We’ve made the seeded herbal biscuits “Little Cakes” and transformed Naples Biscuits into “Artificial Potatoes” and “Bisket Pudding,” but these “Fine Biskett” seemed like a nice addition to our repertoire.

Recipes

Sacke Possett

To make a sacke possett;
Take one pound of almonds beate them very small
with as much sack as will keep them from oyling
then take one pinte of creme put in your suger into
it sett it one a chafing dish of cols till it be redy
to boyle; then put in your almons sturringe it very
well soe serue it to your table;

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

1 c ground almonds
2 T sherry
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar

Combine the almonds and sack in a small bowl.

Put the cream and sugar in a small pot and heat until they almost reach a boil. Stir in the almond-sack mixture.

Serve immediately.

Fine Biskett

to make fine biskett

take 1 pound of fine suger 2 pound of fine flower 8 or
10 eggs put amoungst it a penny worth of anneece seede &
a few coriander seede beat all well in a bason together &
make it up into cakes after it is baked you may cut it in slicee
& candy that wth suger if you please,

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

3/4 c sugar (4 oz) plus additional sugar to sprinkle on the biscuits
1 3/4 c flour (8 oz)
2 eggs
1t fennel seeds
1t coriander seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Form the dough into pleasing biscuits. I rolled half the dough into a log and sliced thin cookies. I shaped the remaining dough into cookies.

Place on a baking sheet greased with butter or spray (or covered with baking parchment). Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the biscuits.

Bake 15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown at the edges.

The Results

Neither of these recipes would make my all time favorites list.

The sacke possett taste like a strange, boozy protein shake. The viscus texture was especially unappealing, although it might have improved if I’d used almond milk instead of the ground almonds I had in my fridge.

I loved the flavorful spices in the fine bisketts, but the dense, floury texture of the biscuit overall showed the lack of butter or cream in the recipe. On the other hand, Rachael prepared a vegan version of this recipe and was very pleased with her results.

The most important part of this process — in the archive and in the kitchen — has been the collaboration between me, my student, and Margaret Baker’s manuscript across time and space.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and improve on them!

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!

Could Possett

CookingArchives-4092

Photo by Carley Storm Photography http://www.carleystormphotography.com

In the heat of the Philadelphia summer, we’ve been on the lookout for refreshing beverage recipes to prepare alongside hearty, early modern fare. “Could Possett,” a boozy herbaceous lemonade, hit the spot.

This recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, an all-purpose household manuscript that was in use between 1600 and 1710. Food recipes are intermixed with medicinal recipes throughout the manuscript.

The Recipe

could posset

To make Could Possett

Take a pint of white wine a quarter of a pint of the Rose water
4 spounefulles of verges the Juice of one greate lemmon put into and halfe
the yellow rind of that Lemmon put into the Liqour with branch of
Rosemary and alitle amber greese and musk put as much sugar
into this as will sweetten it accordinge to your Likinge stire and
brew these together at Lest a quarter of an hower

Just as Ms Codex 252 is a mix of medicinal and culinary recipes, so too does the “Could Possett” straddle the categories between comestible and cure. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth informs the audience that she has incapacitated King Duncan’s guards by contaminating their posset: “The surfeted Groomes doe mock their charge / With Snores. I haue drugg’d their Possets” (1623). Robert Herrick’s poem “To Phillis to love and live with him” promises a beloved posset, among other delicacies: “Thou shall have Possets, Wassails fine, / Not made of Ale, but spiced Wine” (1648). The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “posset” as a “drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, flavoured with sugar, herbs, spices, etc., and often drunk for medicinal purposes.” Recipes for “ordinary plain wholesome posset” and “sack posset” in Ms Codex 252 fit this description well. Our “could possett” recipe does not call for hot, curdled milk, but it does bear a resemblance to some of the other medicinal waters in the volume.

This recipe calls for a few relatively exotic ingredients. “Verges,” or “verjuice,” is a sour beverage made from immature grapes that is still available today, but somewhat difficult to find. We found our posset to be quite tart without adding the verjuice. “Amber greese,” or ambergris, and musk are both more associated with scent and perfumery these days than with beverages, although they were widely used in punches and tinctures in the early modern era. We debated adding angostura bitters instead, but decided that the rosemary and rose water were sufficiently flavorful on their own. Since wine was far sweeter in the seventeenth century than it is today, we used a fairly sweet prosecco that we had on hand as as the base alcohol for the drink. It also added some festive bubbles! For a tasty, alcohol-free version of this recipe, substitute a liter of sparkling water, tonic water, or fine ginger ale for the wine and adjust the sugar accordingly.

Our Recipe

serves 8

1 bottle white wine, on the sweet side (still or sparkling)

1/4 cup rose water

juice of one lemon

peel of half a lemon, cut into long strips

4 sprigs of rosemary

1/2 cup sugar (adjust to taste)

Mix the ingredients in a large serving jug or punch bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste to check sugar levels and adjust as needed. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

The Results

A tart, highly quaffable summer beverage. It looks lovely in the glass and stands up to flavorful food. We sipped it alongside Maccarony Cheese  and a side of bitter greens. The wine and lemon flavors dominated, while the rosemary and rosewater added fresh, vegetal notes. This is a great recipe for a summer picnic, barbeque, or dinner party.