“Who you callin’ a silly bub, and what’s that you’re offering me?”– Mentioned on three occasions in Samuel Pepys’ diary — in 1662, 1663 and 1668
When we think of Christmases past, including the traditions and foods that Jane Austen and her kin would have enjoyed, we think of yule logs, kissing boughs, and festive drinks, such as apple toddy, milk punch, and syllabub, a less potent alcoholic and cream mixture than eggnog.
Over time, the precise recipes have changed. According to British Culture, British Customs, and British Traditions, “In the seventeenth century, a milkmaid would send a stream of new, warm milk directly from a cow into a bowl of spiced cider or ale. A light curd would form on top with a lovely whey underneath. This, according to Elizabeth David, was the original syllabub. Today’s syllabub is more solid (its origins can also be traced to the seventeenth century, albeit to the upper classes) and mixes sherry and/or brandy, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and double cream into a custard-like dessert or an eggnog-like beverage, depending upon the cook.”
“In the hour or two that the syllabub was set aside, a curd formed over the ale. With the possible addition of a layer of cream on top, the syllabub was ready to drink. The solids that formed on top of a syllabub were eaten with a spoon, the wine at the bottom drunk.”* Historic Food offers another detailed account of the history and making of this fascinating drink. I’ve also found a stanza from a traditional song that includes drinking syllabub under a cow, which sits below.
You hawk, you hunt, you lie upon pallets,
You eat, you drink (the Lord knows how !);We sit upon hillocks, and pick up our sallets, And drink up a syllabub under a cow.
With a fading.
In The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper, John Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, the Principal Cooks at The Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand in the late 18th century, offer precisely such a recipe for syllabub. One supposes that these instructions might be difficult to follow today except for the most determined country person:
A Syllabub Under a Cow
Having put a bottle of red or white wine, ale or cyder, into a China bowl, sweeten it with sugar, and grate in some nutmeg. Then hold it under the cow, and milk into it until it has a fine froth on the top. Strew over it a handful of currants cleaned, washed, and picked, and plumbed before the fire.
Over half a century later, Mrs. Beeton includes this syllabub recipe in her historic and groundbreaking cookery and household management book:
To Make Syllabub
900ml (1½ pints) Milk
600ml (1 pint) Sherry or White Wine
½ Grated Nutmeg
Sugar, to taste
Put the wine into a bowl, with the grated nutmeg and plenty of caster sugar add the milk and whisk.
Clotted cream may be laid on the top, with ground cinnamon or nutmeg and sugar.
A little brandy may be added to the wine before the milk is put in.
In some counties, cider is substituted for the wine, when this is used, brandy must always be added.
Warm milk may be poured on from a spouted jug or teapot, but it must be held very high.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.
Find more information about syllabub in these links:
- Traditional recipe for lemon syllabub at the National Trust
- A Single Syllabub, Jane Austen Centre
Image from Historic Foods