Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I recently acquired a reprint of the First American Cook Book dated 1796. I love looking through the recipes. One section of the book is called SYLLABUBS. The name sounded familiar to me, but I think I confused it with SYLLABUS, which has nothing at all to do with cooking, unless one is enrolled in a cooking class.

At any rate, I asked my friends and family, including my mother, if they had heard of syllabubs. None of them had. I looked the word up in the dictionary and found this: milk or cream that is curdled with an acid beverage (as wine or cider) and often sweetened and served as a drink or topping or thickened with gelatin and served as a dessert. Somehow curdled and dessert  don’t go together in my mind, but what do I know? I’ve never tried a syllabub, so I shouldn’t express my opinion.

One of the earliest written recipes for syllabub dates back to 1655, in the work “The Compleat Cook” by a British author known only as W.M. The dessert was extremely popular in the 17th century.

Here are two recipes from my cookbook:

To make a fine syllabub from the cow

Sweeten a quart of cider with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.

That might make a fine syllabub, but I don’t have a cow to milk into my cider, and I don’t really understand the recipe. There aren't enough exact measurements for me to follow it. I have no clue what quantity of milk would be proper. And I really can’t get over the whole milking the cow into your liquor thing. Imagine the family gathered in the kitchen. The mother is holding a pot of cider, sugar and nutmeg. Pa nods and smiles. “Hang on kids! Ma has to go to the barn to make dessert!”

So here’s another one that is a bit easier (relatively speaking):

A whipt Syllabub

Take two porringers of cream, and one of white wine, grate in the skin of a lemon, take the whites of three eggs, sweeten it to your taste, then whip it with a whisk, take off the froth as it rises and put it into your syllabub glasses or pots, and they are fit for use.

For those who don’t know (I didn’t), a porringer is a shallow metal bowl, usually with a handle. The whole whipping with a whisk and taking off the froth as it rises seems like a lot of work. I wonder if my Kitchenaid would whisk it for me.

Modern syllabub recipes sound pretty good. They appear to be making a come back. Just type syllabub into Google and you’ll find plenty. But the modern recipes are missing some of the more interesting aspects of the old recipes, like warm milk directly from the cow.

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