I’ll admit it up front – the joys of the holiday season and my British background still brings out the Dickensian in me at this time of year. Corny as it may sound, I love the atmosphere, the traditions, the music, the food, and the wines that associate themselves with Christmastime. In my mind I put aside the stress and crass commercialism that so often overtakes the season and imagine I’m enjoying a steaming bowl of punch with Mr. Pickwick in a snowy 1830’s London inn.
So – anyone for Posset? Posset is a very olde worlde hot drink, a kind of early version of eggnog, made of milk curdled with wine or ale and then spiced. It can be traced back to the 15th century, and may derive from an earlier similar concoction called Caudle.
Shakespeare mentions it a number of times in his plays. From The Merry Wives of Windsor we have: “Yet be cheerful, knight: thou shalt eat a posset tonight at my house”.
There are hundreds of varying recipes for Posset. Here’s one called My Lord of Carlisle’s Sack-Posset from 1671 —
“Take a pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream put in eighteen yolks of eggs, and eight of the whites; a pint of Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of sugar into the Wine and Eggs, with a nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon; set the Bason on the fire with the Wine and Eggs, and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boiling from the fire, pour it on high, but stir it not; cover it with a dish, and when it is settlede, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up.”
Sounds pretty rich and very sweet to me! It should be mentioned that Sack is an antiquated wine term for a white fortified wine, originally somewhat sweet, from Spain or the Canary Islands. Later it became synonymous with dry sherry. Of course this recipe would be only enjoyed by people with money. The poorer people made their posset from ale instead of wine, and thickened it with bread.
A well-made posset has three layers. The uppermost (known as ‘the grace’) is an aerated foam. The middle layer is a smooth, spicy custard to be eaten with a spoon. And the bottom layer is a pungent alcoholic liquid traditionally drunk through a straw-like spout in the posset pot.
As well as being a warming winter drink, posset was also said to be a remedy for colds, sleeplessness, and minor ailments.
I was going to write about another holiday drink, but that will have to wait until my next blog on December 31st. In the meantime let me raise my posset pot and wish you —
A joyful, safe, and loving Holiday season to one and all! Cheers!
Bill Stobbs, Wine Supervisor, West Coast