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April 22, 2013

Sack posset
Posted by Teresa at 10:17 AM * 111 comments

I’ve recently been asked about posset recipes. This one, for a Sack Posset, is from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened: Whereby Is Discovered Several Ways for Making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As Also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. (1669), page 111:


Boil two wine-quarts of Sweet-cream in a Possnet; when it hath boiled a little, take it from the fire, and beat the yolks of nine or ten fresh Eggs, and the whites of four with it, beginning with two or three spoonfuls, and adding more till all be incorporated; then set it over the fire, to recover a good degree of heat, but not so much as to boil; and always stir it one way, least you break the consistence. In the mean time, let half a pint of Sack or White muscadin boil a very little in a bason, upon a Chafing-dish of Coals, with three quarters of a pound of Sugar, and three or four quartered Nutmegs, and as many pretty big pieces of sticks of Cinnamon. When this is well scummed, and still very hot, take it from the fire, and immediately pour into it the cream, beginning to pour neer it, but raising by degrees your hand so that it may fall down from a good height; and without anymore to be done, it will then be fit to eat. It is very good kept cold as well as eaten hot. It doth very well with it, to put into the Sack (immediately before you put in the cream) some Ambergreece, or Ambered-sugar, or Pastils. When it is made, you may put powder of Cinnamon and Sugar upon it, if you like it.

It may help to understand if you read his other posset recipes, which are usefully grouped together, and which merge into the recipes for syllabubs, clotted creams, curd creams, and a thing called “My Lord of S. Alban’s Cresme Fouettee” which sounds both like and unlike modern whipped cream. If eggnog had been around, it would probably be included in this range.

It’s interesting to see how recipes get grouped during different periods. For Digby, sweet drinks containing cream were part of a continuum that included semi-solid cream-based desserts. These days we’d group the semi-solid desserts with recipes for custard, flan, mousse, and possibly ice cream, and hive off the fancy beverages into a separate chapter.

The other thing I’ll note is that in New York, possets and syllabubs gradually shed their sack, sherry, eggs, and cream, ending up as the wonderfully confusing New York “egg cream” that’s a mixture of milk, U-Bet chocolate syrup, and seltzer.

Comments on Sack posset:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 10:33 AM:

It certainly sounds like a near-relation of eggnog. (I'm contemplating the kitchen equipment required to quarter nutmegs.)

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 10:36 AM:

A cleaver or small hatchet?

#3 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 10:41 AM:

Or if you're like me, use the bits left over after you've grated as much of a nutmeg as you can without grating your fingers.

#4 ::: jenphalian ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 10:50 AM:

I desperately want to like something with an awesome name like "sack posset." I mean, how cool does that sound? I'm hung on comparisons to eggnog and egg cream, though, two drinks I dislike intensely.

Is there a friendly jell-o posset comparison for Minnesotans? Or maybe cream-of-posset soup?

#5 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:00 AM:

Thanks for this!

The word "possnet/posnet" was to me unknowe:

A small metal pot or vessel for boiling, having a handle and three feet.

saith the OED.

I see from the citations there that it had no special relation to possets, either etymologically or in its range of uses.

At first I wondered whether it was a very early, very rare instance of portmanteau coinage, i.e. some sort of net for use in cooking possets.
But no; even though there's a posset in this posnet, there's no "posset" in "possnet."

(Though Sir Digby's inclination to spell its name with a double 's' may betray some attraction via folk etymology?)

#6 ::: oldster has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:12 AM:

And has no idea why.

The obvious offering in this case is a lovely soft custard, with powder of Cinnamon and Sugar upon it.

But alas, I cannot make possets! Vellem, si possim.

#7 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:14 AM:

Is there a friendly jell-o posset comparison for Minnesotans?

Take one carton cherry jelleaux, with the redde lettres on the box, and make as for glace or aspick, but do not let firme. In a cawldron, take two pints thunderbyrd, or four roses, or nyquille, and add an equal measure of good strong hamm's ale, and warm it with A&P spice as for pumpkin pye. Add this to the warm jelleaux, and add then one tubb of coolwhippe gently or as much reddiwhip as to make a posset.

#8 ::: jenphalian ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:42 AM:

#6- :D
When it is made, I may put shredded carrot upon it and drop in some few grapes. Thus the full fruit salad posset shall be achieved!

#9 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:49 AM:

Then you can put it here.

#10 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:55 AM:

The most interesting thing about this, as far as I'm concerned, is the presence of ambergris in the recipe.

Which would present practical problems - not only is the real stuff very rare, but the trade in it is illegal in a lot of places

#11 ::: cyllan ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:08 PM:

Every so often, we host an "Experimental Dinner Night" in which guests are asked to bring the results of an untested recipe to the festivities. This go around, one of my friends elected to make a posset because she'd read about them so often in bad (and sometimes good) historical novels. This would have helped her in her research.

It tasted a good deal like a mild eggnog. Not quite as rich, slightly less strongly flavored (hers had a lime flavoring), but warm and pleasant. Both it and the hot butterscotch drink (which was amazing) were deemed "Tasty, but curiously involved for a before bedtime drink."

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:10 PM:

Dave Crisp #9: The recipe suggests ambered sugar as a substitute for ambergris. That's readily available, as well as eminently legal.

I'm surprised Digby didn't suggest Cyprus sugar (the lowest grade).

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:11 PM:

Eek, I saw no spam. I forgot to remove the message. My apologies.

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:12 PM:

For apologising for seeing spam where there was none.

I offer the gnomes some herbal tea, and an apology.

[There's a triple-space hidden in your name. -- Jios Biro, Duty Gnome]

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:13 PM:

Twice, for apologising for seeing spam where there was none.

Possibly for the inferior quality of the bribe offered too. Or for an extra space in the header.

#16 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:24 PM:

@jenphalian: When I was young (many decades ago), I was fascinated by my grandmother's collection of churchwomen's and Oddfellows ladies' auxiliary fundraising cookbooks from rural Iowa. They were a kind of pure example of audience-specific writing ("Add butter the size of an egg, place in medium oven, and cook 'til done."), and gelatin salads made up at least half of all recipes.

Nowadays, I make my living writing recipes for using CAE software. "Enter an element size and choose the appropriate midnode curvature method. Click OK.") It's basically the same thing. I learned technical writing from Midwestern churchwomen.

#17 ::: Matthew Jude Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:27 PM:

What doesn't make much sense to me is why the US considers ambergris a bad thing. People don't hunt whales for it; it's a waste product, found generally on beaches.

Is this bureaucratic and/or legislative stupidity?

#18 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:34 PM:

Matthew Jude Brown, it's probably one of a group of laws that forbid owning any part of an endangered or protected animal, even those parts (e.g. feathers) you don't have to kill, or even encounter, the animal to obtain.

#19 ::: Matthew Jude Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:47 PM:

So, basically, bureaucratic stupidity and generalist rules which make sense in most cases but not all, but with no exceptions.

The reason why the feathers ban makes sort-of sense: it's impossible to tell if the bird was killed for the feathers or if they're found shed or after accidental death.

But nobody kills sperm whales for ambergris, and nobody ever killed them with that as a goal; if they found some, it was a bonus.

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:52 PM:

Still not sure what the sack is for.

Does it act like cheesecloth, for letting liquid drain out?

#21 ::: Matthew Jude Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:56 PM:

Stefan Jones @ 20: I'm having a Poe's Law moment here. Do you seriously not know what sack is (a type of wine), or are you pretending not to for the sake of the joke?

#22 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 12:57 PM:

Stefan (#20): Not sure if you're being facetious.

Sack = dry sherry, aged in port barrels.

White muscadine ~~ moscato.

#23 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:02 PM:

cyllan @ 11

A modernized recipe for a small, low-calorie posset, made rapidly, using the most modern ingredients and conveniences.

Put 1 cup milk in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup until it starts to foam. Meanwhile, beat an egg in a drinking mug (hold a whisk between your hands and spin it) with sugar to taste (a rounded teaspoon or so); get someone to pour the milk slowly into the egg, beating the whole time. Add a slug of rum (Appleton's is best), and grate some nutmeg on top. (This is a favorite winter drink at our house.)

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:42 PM:

SamChevre #23: Not "Appleton's", Appleton. It's not a person's rum, it's named for the place where it's made. But yes, it's best. Definitely.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister has again been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:44 PM:

I can't tell why. I don't see an extra space in my name. I'm not sure what I did wrong this time. I am contemplating suicide.

#26 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:46 PM:

Matthew Jude Brown @19: But nobody kills sperm whales for ambergris, and nobody ever killed them with that as a goal; if they found some, it was a bonus.

Less of a bonus than you might think: ambergris "straight from the whale" looks like wet blubber and smells, bluntly, of crap; it requires several months (possibly even years) of exposure to light and oxygen to develop its desirable properties.

#27 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:49 PM:

Fragano, you have three invisible spaces after your name in the "Commenter" block. I'd suggest erasing everything in that block, then retyping, and clicking the "Don't make me retype this" checkbox next time you post.

#28 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 01:54 PM:

#16 ::: HP ... audience-specific writing
My favorite example of this (Nebraska family cookbook) finishes the recipe for sour-milk* pancakes with
"Heat skillet. Have at it."

*from what you didn't use from your cows till past drinking

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:01 PM:

Jim Macdonald #27: Thanks.

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:12 PM:

Dave C., #10: Re ambergris, that confused me -- I don't believe it's edible, and was wondering if it was a local or regional term for something else instead. Although the Wikipedia article does mention that it was sometimes used as a flavoring for food; it's amazing what people will put into their mouths.

Similarly, is "ambered sugar" brown sugar, or is it sugar with actual (probably powdered) amber in it?

SamChevre, #23: That sounds remarkably like a 1-person version of my mother's recipe for boiled custard -- except that, as a good Methodist, she didn't add rum, and she typically used vanilla extract rather than nutmeg for flavoring. These days I'd be leery of drinking it because of the salmonella issue* -- I used to be able to find commercial boiled custard in the stores during the Christmas season, but these days all there seems to be is eggnog, which I don't really like.

* And wouldn't it be nice if, instead of solemn health warnings about consuming raw eggs, we had poultry-farming regulations which would remove the risk of salmonella?

#31 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:13 PM:

The list of provender given for John Paston’s funeral in 1466 (as referenced in The Holy Rood of Bromholm supra)

... 1,300 eggs, twenty gallons of milk, eight gallons of cream, thirteen barrels of beer, twenty-seven barrels of ale, a barrel of beer of the great assize, and a runlet of wine of fifteen gallons

suggests that they were feeding beer and ale to the commoners and syllabub to the gentry.

#32 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:16 PM:

@30 Lee

If you're pouring boiling milk into it, the egg will be pretty well cooked.

#33 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:23 PM:

I'd expect ambered sugar to be partially-caramelized.

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:25 PM:

Cheryl, #32: But the milk isn't boiling. Well, SamChevre's recipe specifies "foaming", but my mother was always very emphatic that the milk was NOT supposed to boil, which was one of the things which made this a finicky recipe. Because if the milk was boiling, the egg would cook, and become clumpy and full of shreds like egg-drop soup, and that's not what you want here.

#35 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:43 PM:

Lee #34, but the eggs don't need to reach boiling to kill the bacteria. A temperature of 160F is more than adequate, and foaming milk and thin streams of eggs would probably reach that. An instant-read thermometer is always useful in case of doubt.

You can also pasteurize your own eggs before use, or occasionally buy pasteurized eggs.

#36 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:46 PM:

Lee @ 30/34

The temperatures are a bit finicky. If the milk is at 180, and the egg and cup are at 80 (I usually fill the mug with hot tap water to warm it), the finished custard is at 160. I've always assumed that if I'm getting it hot enough to thicken, it should kill any bacteria. If the egg is cold and the mug is also, it won't thicken unless the milk is actively boiling.

The only difference from boiled custard is that, done right, you get a high head of foam--it can be an inch thick or more.

#37 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:50 PM:

Ambered sugar is sugar that has been flavoured with ambergris. (The OED gives three different senses for amber as a verb; the first one, 'to perfume with ambergis,' is illustrated by a quotation from Digby ("You may strew Ambered Sugar upon it").)

I'd go with the pastils.

#38 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 02:51 PM:

Lee @30: I was dimly aware that powdered ambergris had been used as a flavouring at some point in history, but this is the first recipe I've encountered that explicitly calls for it.

Can't help you on "ambered sugar", I'm afraid, because I'd never heard of it before today either.

#39 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 03:06 PM:

That's why it's important to keep beating while the pouring is going on. (I've made his egg tea; you're pouring extremely hot tea into beaten eggs: the egg cooks while you're pouring and stirring. It's not noticeable as a texture.)

#40 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 03:11 PM:

Nope, I wasn't being facetious. I have never seen "sack" being used to refer to a kind of wine. So this . . .

"It doth very well with it, to put into the Sack..."

. . . sounds like a cooking instruction.

Looking back up toward the top, I see "half a pint of Sack or White muscadin," which could have clued me in if I wasn't still squicked by the thought of all those eggs. Not an egg fan.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 03:17 PM:

Jenphalian @4:

Is there a friendly jell-o posset comparison for Minnesotans? Or maybe cream-of-posset soup?
Jello smoothie! If you use good-quality ingredients, those can be quite pleasant. I can make you one next time you're over. Until then:

Dissolve the powdered gelatin in 1 cup of boiling water, but don't add the second cup of water called for in the directions. Let the solution cool until it's syrupy but not set. Put into a blender and process while adding fresh or frozen fruit, then Greek yogurt. It will be thick, so keep the machine running. Temper it up with orange juice until the consistency is right.

Oldster @5: Kenelm Digby's spelling is at all times charmingly informal.

Dave Crisp @10: What is and isn't suitable for flavoring food is another one of those issues that changes over time. Our culture seldom uses rosewater in cooking, relegates vanilla to a background note, and doesn't use ambergris at all.

I think I'd prefer a tiny dab of perfumer's amber, which smells sweet enough to rival vanilla.

Cyllan @11:

It tasted a good deal like a mild eggnog. Not quite as rich, slightly less strongly flavored (hers had a lime flavoring), but warm and pleasant. Both it and the hot butterscotch drink (which was amazing) were deemed "Tasty, but curiously involved for a before bedtime drink."
Relatively modest households still had a servant or two.

What the combination of alcohol, carbohydrates, and warm milk suggests to me is a sleeping potion. Also, in an era without central heating, it would send you to bed feeling warm and comfortable.

Matthew Jude Brown @17, 19: Or the rule may exist for nonstupid reasons we don't yet know. A well-run bureaucracy is one of the foundation stones of civilization.

Have you ever had to help draft laws, regulations, or rule sets? Clarity and simplicity (insofar as they're attainable) are major virtues. A law that can't be understood or administered is pretty much by definition a bad law.

It's impossible to predict all the ways people might interact with an endangered species, and trying to do so would result in unmanageably complex and bizarre-looking laws. On the other hand, "Don't do anything, just leave them alone" is easily understood, and covers most eventualities.


And a general comment: two different substances get called amber, and neither of them are ambergris. The kind of amber that's petrified tree sap can be used in perfumes, but I can't imagine it being attractive if used in food. The other kind of amber looks a lot like penuche candy, melts at a relatively low temperature, has a mellow and intensely sweet smell, will sublimate if left uncovered, and isn't priced high enough to contain ambergris. I've been assuming that this is the kind of amber Kenelm Digby had in mind.

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 03:42 PM:

I've seen Middle Eastern recipes that call for a small amount of amber (or ambergris). It could be stuck on the underside of the pot lid to perfume the dish. (See 'Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes', which is a very interesting book.)

#43 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 04:34 PM:

Stefan Jones: The "sack" is French sec, meaning dry. Brits do this all the time. ("Plonk" is from vin blanc; AEF troops would order it in French cafés in WWI.)

#44 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 04:37 PM:

(For another linguistic travesty, see Hock.)

#45 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 05:28 PM:

#0: I mis-parsed the title as a typo for "Sock Puppet."

#46 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 05:50 PM:

Jacque #45- so did I.
By the way, post no. 46 is spam, complete with a link in the name.

#47 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 06:12 PM:

guthrie: "All Cretins are liars"? :-)

#48 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 06:27 PM:

Jacque (47): I'm fairly sure you mean 'Cretans'.

Unless you're making a joke that's too subtle for me. :)

#49 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 06:42 PM:

Mary Aileen: Nope, you're right. (Though the temptation to claim "subtle joke" is very strong. "Hey! It's so subtle, even I don't get it!")

I am, in point of fact, an abysmal speller. It's only by very diligent overcompensation that I get it right as often as I do.

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 07:32 PM:

Theophylact: I assume you've seen the variety of sherry called "Dry Sack" that's packaged in a burlap bag.

#51 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 07:38 PM:

As I said to Tam MacNeil on Twitter the other day, "isn't Dry Sack a brand of baby powder?"

OK, sophomoric. But it got the job done.

#52 ::: Tam ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 08:04 PM:

Theophylact @ 43 I have always wondered where the word 'plonk' came from. I picked the word up from my gran as a slang for cheap wine of any sort but never knew the origin.

Theresa @ 50 'Twould be the very one I bought for the recipe Mac sent me. (Dry Sack, that is. But no little bag. Alas.)

#53 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 08:16 PM:

Falstaff's love-letter to Mistress Page (and Mistress Ford, as it soon transpires):

"Ask me no reason why I love you; for though
Love use Reason for his physician, he admits him
not for his counsellor. You are not young, no more
am I; go to then, there's sympathy: you are merry,
so am I; ha, ha! then there's more sympathy: you
love sack, and so do I; would you desire better

Surely no woman can resist the flattery of being called an old, cackling, sherry-tippler.
And yet once they have compared letters, the wives will be merrier than Falstaff can imagine....

#54 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 09:13 PM:

Having tried pine resin gum exactly once*, I don't think that amber (the fossilized resin) would be any better on food. Perhaps the long-ago food writers mean labdanum when they speak of amber in food?

*Our house was surrounded with pine trees that dripped sap which crystallized into appetizing-looking lumps. As a kid I read somewhere that you could chew hardened pine sap, so I tried it. It crumbled unpleasantly, then became chewable, but the BLAST! OF!! TURPENTINE!!! flavor was unforgettable.

#55 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 09:17 PM:

I heard that you were supposed to use spruce gum for that. Not sure what it would taste like, but I bet it comes without 'BLAST! OF!! TURPENTINE!!!'

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2013, 11:54 PM:

Matthew, #17-19: This excerpt from the article linked @54 may shed some light on the situation:

Labdanum is much valued in perfumery because of its resemblance to ambergris, which has been banned from use in many countries because its precursor originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species; although the best-quality ambergris is found free-floating or washed up onshore (long exposure to sunlight, air and water removes offensive-smelling components of the fresh substance), and thus raises no ethical objections, a lower-quality version can also be recovered from some fraction of freshly slaughtered whales, and so may encourage poaching of sperm whales. (emphasis mine)

So, not "stupid bureaucracy", but "greedy people" -- as with the eagle feathers, there's no easy way to tell whether the ambergris you're buying was found on the beach or taken from an illegally-slaughtered animal. Absent a level of worldwide bureaucratic involvement/oversight that I'm sure would be even less welcome to you, the only plausible course is to ban it altogether.

#57 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 01:07 AM:

I'm a big enough fan of both eggnog and egg custard that we may have to try this.

We've been steadily working on our Smoking Bishop recipe for a few holiday seasons, now, and it gets a little more wonderful every year. One of the tricky bits is working out substitutions for ingredients that were available to Dickens, frex, but don't show up in the local supermarket around Christmastime.

But that's also a big part of the fun of reconstructing historical recipes.

#58 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 05:24 AM:

Ambergris was taken off the CITES red list and is legal to buy in the UK and New Zealand. I have cooked with it and its one of the ingredients that divides people - the same dish some enjoyed, some were revolted by. I cooked it for Clarissa Dickson-Wright in a shor series called 'Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner'.

'Amber sugar' I would expect to be sugar in which ambergris had been kept, as with rose sugar and violet sugar, both of which have a long history.

Buttered Eggs by Robert May (1685 edition)

Take 20 eggs, beat them in a dish with some salt and put butter to them; then have two large rouls or fine manchets, cut them into toasts & toast them against the fire with a pound of fine sweet butter; being finely buttered, lay the toasts in a fair clean scowred dish, put the eggs on the toasts, and garnish the dish with pepper and salt. Otherwise half boil them in the shells, then butter them, and serve them on toasts, or toasts about them.
To these eggs sometimes use musk and ambergriece, and no pepper.

#59 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 09:06 AM:

TNH: Had it. It's okay, but I prefer the Lustau Manzanilla.

"Sherry" itself is, of course, another one of those corruptions (of Jerez, in this case).

#60 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 09:16 AM:

Sir Kenelm Digby was also the propounder of Sympathetic Powder of Dog, an early contender for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, though he died quite a while before the Longitude Board was established. He seems to have been quite a fellow.

#62 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 10:18 AM:

There's no alcohol in this lovely ambered posset; the sack has been boiled down to a syrup with the sugar and nutmegs and cinnamon.

#63 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 11:41 AM:

So, is warm milk at bedtime the last vestige of possets?

#64 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 12:40 PM:

Also, Sir Kenelm Digby donated the Digby Manuscripts to Oxford's Bodleian Library. My favorite of these is the 13th century English (by geographical origin; it's written in English, Latin and Anglo-Norman) manuscript Digby 86.

Sir Kenelm's street fight description has clearly been written by someone who's read far too much Latin in his life and thinks that copying Latin grammar in English is a good idea. I mean, the following is one sentence:

After Theagenes had remained some time thus beating down their swords and wounding many of them, and shewing wonderful effects of a settled and not transported valour, and that their beginning to slack their fury in pressing upon him gave a little freedom to his thoughts, all his spirits being before united in his heart and hands, he considered how it must certainly be some mistake that made him to be thus treated by men that he knew not, and to whom he was sure in his particular could have given no offence, being but that day arrived in Alexandria from very remote parts; wherefore he spoke to them in the best manner he could, to make himself understood in a tongue that he was not well master of, and asked what moved them to use him so discourteously that was a stranger there, and was not guilty of having injured any of them; to which words of his, one that seemed to be of the best quality among them, by a cassock embroidered with gold which he wore over his jack of mail, answered him with much fury in his manner.

Dear Sir Kenelm, I am going to confiscate your conjunctions and semicolons. (NB: did the original printing include punctuation, or did later editors add it?)

#65 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 12:46 PM:

Beth @62:

During my last stay in hospital, I was reading On Food And Cooking on my Kindle (which is not a good tool for works of an encyclopedic nature). And one thing I recall is that boiling away the alcohol is difficult. It only happens slowly. Since the recipe says that you take a half-point of sack and "boil a very little" with the sugar and other ingredients, I doubt you lose much alcohol. Indeed, a chafing dish is more to keep a plate of food warm than to cook it, and the purpose is to warm the mixture enough for the sugar to dissolve. We're talking some 340g of sugar in 280ml of liquid, or did Sir Kenelm's recipe use the wine measure, from which the US pint is derived?

Since the milk-and-eggs element are also heated, the hot sugar solution probably isn't going to cool out enough for the sugar to start crystallizing, and some of the proteins from the egg may also have an effect. Come to think of it, the protein-encapsulated fats in the milk will also help.

It's all starting to sound like an alcoholic milk shake.

#66 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 01:06 PM:

Yet it is the infallible mark of an English gentleman, thoroughly schooled in the classics, and inured to abuse by the strictures imposed by his schoolmasters, to make such enquiries with the utmost politeness; such do the poets say, even unto Kipling, demonstrating that lightness of heart, with no little merry banter between companions, which is supplanted by a certain politeness which precedes the necessary biffing of the ungodly: by God, sir, would you have us mistaken for Frenchmen!

[You think I should say otherwise, on this day of all days? No, sir, I shall not! For am I not English, with the blood of a thousand lesser realms blended in my veins, child of an Empire on which the sun never set. Let not it be said that the English are bigoted. We just understand you better if you play cricket.]

#67 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 02:19 PM:

Did the alcohol disappear from New York possets around the time of Prohibition?

#68 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 02:56 PM:

Warm milk at bedtime--in our house it always had blackstrap molasses in it. Almost makes me wish I could still have milk.

I think the Tom and Jerry is another vestigial posset.

#69 ::: little pink beast ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 04:10 PM:

SamChevre@67: this would be the Tom and Jerry you're making with rye whiskey from the drugstore that you get on a prescription from old Doc Moggs, on account of how you're such a law-abiding citizen?

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 04:11 PM:

I don't recall if they're mentioned in the book, but in the TV adaptation of The Box of Delights, a policeman recommends a posset to young Kay Harker. As I recall, ingredients included milk, eggs, and nutmeg. Drunk hot, in one go. The cook later whips one up for the boy.

#71 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2013, 09:08 PM:

A sack posset figures as a murder weapon in John Dickson Carr's time-travel murder mystery The Devil in Velvet. (Carr loves Charles II a bit too much for my taste, but it's still a lot of fun.)

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 09:47 AM:

Rymenhild @64: Paarfi!

#73 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 11:19 AM:

oldster @ #53:

Given Falstaff's reputation, I'm not sure he is calling the lady a sherry-tippler when he intimates that she might like to join him in the sack...

#74 ::: jenphalian ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 03:10 PM:

I am excited to return to New Jersey just so I can try some of this possety goodness. I don't have any of my own kitchen junk in MN.

Teresa @41 -- I will bring some fruit for that!

#75 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 03:30 PM:

Sir Kenelm's street fight reminds me a bit of Captain Alatriste's street fight the first (eponymous) book (in approximately the same year)>

#76 ::: Emma in Sydney ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 06:09 PM:

Isn't this a close relation of an Italian zabaglione or French sabayon? They get a bit more cooking, and a bit less cream but the flavours are definitely in the same general region.

#77 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2013, 08:19 PM:

Emma in Sydney @76: You're right, they are. That's interesting.

#78 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2013, 10:57 AM:

Emma in Sydney #76:

The zabaglione I make has no cream whatsoever. Of course, it then gets folded into a whipped cream/mascarpone mixture to make the non-ladyfinger part of tiramisu.

For some reason, custards seem a lot more finicky than similar things not containing milk. Even Jello-mix custards can go wrong for me.

#79 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2013, 04:43 PM:

I remember reading an article in the Wednesday edition of The New York Times rating egg creams all over the city and praising them, which was interesting because I'd never heard of the drink. Later that week I noticed the local Haagan-Daas had it on the menu, and ordered one. "Sure," the counterperson said. She hoisted a gallon can of Hersey's Syrup with a pump on it from under the counter, and as she started to enthusiastically pump into a glass I remember thinking "This is not going to be a peak experience."

#80 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2013, 06:37 PM:

I've never had an egg cream, but if I'm ever in NYC (for more than passing thru) I will certainly try one. They're probably better than Moxie, and I'd drink Moxie again.

#81 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 01:26 AM:

Bruce Durocher @79: That was non-canonical. You have to use U-Bet chocolate syrup. I recommend going to Junior's in Brooklyn, where the glasses have printed lines on them measuring the ingredients for canonical egg creams and lime rickeys.

#82 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 02:25 AM:

I'll agree with Teresa - U-bet or nothing. For that matter, Hershey's syrup is an abomination.

#83 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 02:27 AM:

TNH @81, for true canonicity, you have to wait for Passover, and get the syrup with sugar instead of corn syrup.

#84 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 03:08 AM:

This might be the post-laptop-repair scotch speaking, but now I'm trying to decide which tractate of the Talmud one would go looking for the halacha of egg creams. /tipsy nerd ramblings

#85 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 07:34 AM:

One of our local diner-type places serves egg creams. I tried one once in honor of Harriet the Spy (which is where I first heard of them). It was okay, though I found the lack of both egg and cream puzzling.

#86 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 09:30 AM:

Lila @ 85: There is neither egg nor cream in an egg cream. It's a New York thing.

#87 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 09:36 AM:

It should have been the official beverage of the Holy Roman Empire.

#88 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 10:20 AM:

praisegod barebones (87): The Holy Roman Empire had U-Bet chocolate syrup?

#89 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 12:49 PM:

Mary Aileen:

The Holy Roman Empire had U-Bet chocolate syrup?

Well, in those days, it was known as V-Bet.

#90 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 03:05 PM:

Teresa: I can't afford a trip out of state right now. Restoration Hardware used to carry Junior's Egg Cream glasses, but then they put an ex-Crate&Barrel exec in charge and he deleted them from the catalog. A pity: I was going to buy one, then go to the University Village QFC and get some U-Bet.

#91 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 07:17 PM:

Want a Junior's Egg Cream glass, and some U-Bet syrup? Got it here.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 08:12 PM:

Since most of the recipes for egg creams specify whole milk, it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch to make them with cream instead. You might have to increase the seltzer a bit to counteract the heavier viscosity.

#93 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 08:14 PM:

Jim Macdonald: thanks for looking that up! I was hoping for just the glass, especially since we had a visitation from electricians this week and I don't know if I'll like a proper egg cream anyway. U-Bet I can get locally--it's not like the time I needed a Bosco Bear and the only place I could find that stocked them was in Vermont.

#94 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II has learned Gnomes don't like Bosco. ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 08:16 PM:

It seems like more and more they're u-syruping the function of the mods...

[We gnomes don't mind Bosco; it's three spaces in a row we abhor. -- Pormix Milleta, Duty Gnome]

#95 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2013, 09:13 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II (93): There's currently one available on eBay--just the glass.

#96 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 12:46 AM:

Back in the late eighties, maybe early 90s, when I-Con was a more fannish, less media, convention, the room parties it hosted at Boskone, Nasfic, Worldcon, etcetera, usually featured egg cremes.

We went through a hell of a lot of seltzer.

I recall finding U-Bet in some surprising places. I don't recall specifically having to use another brand.

#97 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 09:28 AM:

sara #54, P J Evans #55: I occasionally chew spruce berries when they're out, for an odd but unique flavor.

Caroline #58: 'Amber sugar' I would expect to be sugar in which ambergris had been kept, as with rose sugar and violet sugar, both of which have a long history.

Also vanilla sugar. I suspect that cinnamon sugar may have a similar history, though nowadays that usually means sugar mixed with powdered cinnamon.

Teresa #63: I'd say, rather that possets are a mostly-lost elaboration of what must have been a fairly ancient habit.

#98 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 10:07 AM:

I decided to google for a bit more information about possets, on the basis of a vague memory of a philosophy podcast in which someone mentioned that Heraclitus (I think) compared the cosmos to a posset, and I started to wonder what ancient Greek possets were like.

I didn't find anything that told me, but I did find some more Kenelm Digby posset recipes, including one which he's said to have got from the Earl of Carlisle. Which made me start to wonder about the social history of this kind of thing. There's something rather intriguing about the idea of seventeenth century noblemen getting together to swap recipes with one another. It makes me wonder whether alpha-male style competitive cooking has a longer history than we suppose. (It also got me imagining a version of the three musketeers in which the duels are replaced by bake-offs.)

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 11:03 AM:

Or posset-making contests?

#100 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 11:20 AM:

@PJ Evans: since leaving that post, I've been looking at the Preface of the book that Teresa linked to on Project Gutenberg, and have learnt that among other things, Digby was an amateur pirate (sorry, 'privateer'). So I think there's definitely room for a fictionalized version along those lines. (Also, he was apparently a son of one of the Gunpowder plotters.)

#101 ::: praisegod barebones apologises for an outbreak of MULTIPLES ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2013, 12:23 PM:

Apologies for the multiples... The machine I'm on - unlike the one I used to use for ML - seems to repost the form without checking if that's what I meant to do if I accidentally hit the Back Button on my browser to get back to the thread.

#102 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2013, 12:59 PM:

That Digby quote seems strikingly familiar to me also, though I haven't read any of 'Captain Alatriste'. I think it might also be the basis for (or referenced by) a passage on a street fight in one section of Jan Potocki's Manuscript Found At Saragossa. (In 1805, it would have been over 130 years in his past, so not unlikely that he might have come across it.) If I can find it, I'll give a pointer to the section.

#103 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2013, 08:58 PM:

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies' word of the day for May 2 was posset, which led me to this. I love the posset cup with the little spout.

#104 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2013, 10:46 PM:

Tracie, #103: The little spout is clearly a built-in version of a drinking straw, since it rises from a hole at the base of the cup.

#105 ::: Carrie S. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2013, 10:44 AM:

Who's Kris Allen?

#106 ::: SamChevre spots spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2013, 01:36 PM:

Sack here references wines, not pokes.

#107 ::: Mongoose spies still more spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 09:15 AM:

For goodness' sake, spammers! Stop it! Think of the poor gnomes!

#108 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2014, 11:29 PM:

Linky in name, as usual.

#109 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2014, 01:51 AM:

I know I've mentioned this elsewhere, but it was probably in an Open Thread and it merits being here as well. I have now had the opportunity to try a real New York-style egg cream, made with Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup, and I like it a lot. It's sort of like carbonated chocolate milk, but much tastier, as if the chocolate milk were flavored with something like Ghirardelli.

If you have a Katz's Deli in your area, that would be the place to look for it. (I think Katz's is a chain, but I don't know how widespread.)

#110 ::: Tom Whitmore sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:34 AM:

Obviously quoted from somewhere....

#111 ::: janetl sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 02:55 AM:

#111 is spam-o-riffic

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