Making Syllabub

The holiday season has arrived at Historic Kenmore, bringing with it our annual display in the house of colonial wintry traditions from greenery to lovely desserts. Two years ago, I explored the mysterious origin of Betty Lewis’s hedgehog cake and even made a pretty passable replica.  This year, there is another dessert on our table at Kenmore that I have been eager to talk about and even taste, syllabub.

Kenmore Christmas Decorations 2018 (3)

Display of desserts popular in the 18th century inside the Passage at Historic Kenmore.

Syllabub is no longer the favorite staple dessert it once was two hundred years ago. I decided to investigate this fluffy confection to learn its history and to attempt to recreate it. You may find that it’s worth reviving this old classic for your upcoming holiday celebrations!

One of the earliest references to this frothy treat is from a 16th century Tudor drama called Thersytes, when a character states, “You and I…muste walke to him and eate a solybubbe!”[1]  It continued to be mentioned through the 17th and 18th century in plays, poetry, art, diaries and cookbooks.  From poet laureate Ben Jonson to famous diarist Samuel Pepys to pioneers in household management like Hannah Woolley, Eliza Smith, and Hannah Glasse, they all knew and appreciated this sweet treat.[2]

Through the centuries, syllabub evolved to suit changing taste and convenience.

One of the oldest and most legendary syllabub recipes was informally known as “under the cow”.[3]   To make it, a poor dairymaid was supposed to milk a cow directly over a bowl of sugar, sack (a white fortified wine), brandy, and cider to create a “fine frothy top.” Then she was to let it sit for a few hours in a cool place.  It sounds simple, rustic, and even pretty tasty. However, this recipe was more fantasy than reality and incredibly impractical.  Despite being unsanitary, it doesn’t seem to work and splits the milk in a most unappetizing way.[4]

If you don’t have a live cow, another syllabub recipe, also rather dubious, was the so-called “Poured or Teapot” approach[5].  This method called for the maker to fill a container with milk and then, from a substantial height, pour it into a bowl of sugar, wine, cider or bandy, and a bit of lemon to create a light and frothy mixture.  This could actually work, if the maker used a heavily enriched cream (similar to modern heavy whipping cream). Otherwise, it also tended to create an unpleasant curdle. [6]

The two former methods, if they worked, were supposed to create a syllabub that was more of a drink and that was pretty heavy on the spirits.  By the 18th century, however, the “Whipt syllabub” became the most popular style of syllabub. It contained less alcohol and was used as a topping instead of as a drink.  The recipe called for the whipping of cream, wine, lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes egg whites. As the froth started to develop, the maker spooned it off into a sieve and let it dry.  After drying, the maker placed the little clouds of froth on top of a glass of sweet wine or jelly.[7]

The Sense of Taste (1744) by Philippe Mercier

“The Sense of Taste” (mid-to-late 1740s) by Philippe Mercier includes some “Whipt syllabubs” on the table. Credit: Yale Center for British Art

I decided to try this fourth style and used a recipe for my experiment called an “Everlasting syllabub” found on page 276 of Mrs. Eliza Smith’s cookbook The compleat housewife, or Accomplished gentlewoman’s companion, published in 1773.[8] Betty Washington Lewis owned this book, which is listed on the 1781 probate inventory of Kenmore. Additionally, I picked this recipe because I don’t have access to a cow, didn’t want to create too much of a mess, and wanted to create a dessert rather than a liquor-infused drink.

RECIPE

18th century recipe
To make Lemon Syllabubs
Take a quart of cream, half a pound of sugar, a pint of white wine, the juice of two or three lemons, the peel of one grated; mix all these, and put them in an earthen pot, and milk it up as fast as you can till it is thick, then pour it in your glasses, and let them stand five or six hours; you may make them overnight.

Recipe using modern measurements and a mixer and that makes less syllabub:
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled

1 cup white sugar
½ cup white wine or apple juice for non-alcoholic
¼ cup of lemon juice
2 tsp of grated lemon zest
Nutmeg to sprinkle on top

Whip the cream and sugar (slowly tbsp. at a time) in a bowl until the cream begins to thicken.  Add white wine, lemon juice and zest and continue to whip until light and fluffy and just holds a peak.  Make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and does not give the syllabub a grainy texture. Serve chilled with a dash of nutmeg or lemon zest. Makes 12 servings.

Syllabub can sit in the fridge for a few hours but you may get some separation of the wine and cream. 

Everlasting syllabub creates a fluffier mousse that is great on its own or as a topping on jellies and trifles.  The recipe is quite simple and requires heavy cream, white wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar. This is all beaten together until it is almost the texture of modern whipped cream.  The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and it took less than 15 minutes to create and serve.

After taste-testing my refreshing treat with several colleagues, we arrived at a consensus that this indeed is a dessert that needs revived for our holiday celebrations.  It is light, fluffy, and citrusy and would be a great palate cleanser after a heavy dinner or a nice change from dense baked goods.  For families with children, a non-alcoholic version can be made by replacing the wine with apple juice.

Finished Syllabub

The syllabub we made topped with lemon zest and nutmeg.

Our experiment was a success and many of you may now have a new dessert gracing your holiday table, if you can keep from eating it all yourself.

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] “Syllabub.” The Foods of England Project, http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/syllabuboldtype.htm.

[2] Day, Ivan. “Further Musings on Syllabub, or Why Not ‘Jumble it a pritie while’?” Historic Food, https://www.historicfood.com/Syllabubs%20Essay.pdf; Pepys, Samuel. “Sunday 3 August 1662.” The Diary of Samuel Pepys, https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1662/08/03/; Woolley, Hannah. The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet Stored With All Manner Of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying And Cookery. Very Pleasant And Beneficial To All Ingenious Persons Of The Female Sex. Duck Lane near West Smithfield, Richard Lowndes, 1672. J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 114; Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. London, Company of Bookfellers, 1747, pg 218.

[3] MacDonell, Anne. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London, Philip Lee Warner, 1910, pg 120.

[4] Day.

[5] Nott, John. The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary: Or, the Accomplish’d Housewife’s Companion. London, C. Rivington, 1723.

[6] Day.

[7] Nott.

[8] Smith, Eliza. The Complete Housewife: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion. London, J. Buckland, et al. 1773, pg 276.

 

 

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32nd Annual Gingerbread House Contest & Exhibit at Ferry Farm [Photos]

It’s the 32nd year of a a long-standing holiday tradition: the Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!  This year’s theme is “Cartoon Adventures.”

Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of these festive creations displayed at Ferry Farm!  Ferry Farm’s hours are Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Ferry Farm is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The gingerbread exhibit ends on December 30.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $9 adults, $4.50 students, under 6 free while admission to the exhibit only is $4.50 adults, $2.25 students, under 6 free.

For more information, call (540) 370-0732 x24 or email hayes@gwffoundation.org.

Photos: 30th Annual Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at Ferry Farm

It’s the 30th year of a a long-standing holiday tradition: the Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!  This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.” Read about Thirty Years of Gingerbread.

Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of the festive creations displayed at Ferry Farm!  Ferry Farm’s hours are Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Ferry Farm is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The gingerbread exhibit ends on December 30.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $8 adults, $4 students, under 6 free while admission to the exhibit only is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free.

For more information, call (540) 370-0732 x24 or email hayes@gwffoundation.org.

Thirty Years of Gingerbread

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition. In fact, it’s so long-standing that this year, 2016, marks the tradition’s 30th year.  What tradition is that?  The annual Gingerbread House Contest and Exhibit at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

Since we are marking three auspicious decades for this event, we dug into the archives to present a look back here on Lives & Legacies.

The contest began in 1987 and, for many years, took place at Historic Kenmore instead of Ferry Farm.  Our records are scant for the contest’s first year but we do know that the 2nd annual contest in 1988 saw middle schoolers Lisa Allen and Erika Paulson win best-in-show, according to a Free Lance-Star clipping in our files. Rev. Ed Boutchyard of Bowling Green’s Zion Full Gospel Church made a church with an ice cream cone steeple!

1987-1

A Polaroid from the first-ever Gingerbread Contest & Exhibit in 1987.

Lisa Allen repeated her best-in-show victory in 1989 with the help of her sister Melanie and friends Theresa Stockdill and Courtney Lucado.

In these early days of the contest, the German Club at James Monroe High School, one of the contest’s longest-running participants, began submitting regular entries and, in 1993, they won their first-ever best-in-show.

In 1995, the Free Lance-Star (scroll up) profiled Claybourne, Emily, and Meredith Beattie, who, having entered the contest for nearly ten years, had only ever won a single 2nd place ribbon.  For this family, the “tradition of assembling and decorating the houses is far more important than winning prizes.” The kids, along with mom and dad, would visit their grandmother out-of-town over Thanksgiving break. They created their gingerbread houses there and then traveled the 300-miles back to Fredericksburg with the houses packed in the back of the car.  Clay explained that he entered year after year “because I like doing it with my sisters and my family.”

1997-1

A gingerbread version of the Fielding Lewis Store from 1997.

In 2000, the contest and exhibit moved from Kenmore across the Rappahannock River to Ferry Farm, where it has been held every year since.

There’s still time to enter a gingerbread house in this year’s contest and be a part of the tradition! Gather the family, start baking that gingerbread, and creatively decorate your house together. This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.”  Entries are being accepted now through Saturday, December 3 at Ferry Farm. Click here for rules and an entry form.

The exhibit will open to the public on Sunday, December 4.  Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  General admission to Ferry Farm and the exhibit is $8 adults, $4 students, under 6 free. To view the gingerbread exhibit only, the cost is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. For more details about this and other holiday events at Ferry Farm and Kenmore, visit kenmore.org/events.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Photos: 29th Annual Gingerbread House Contest at Ferry Farm

It’s a long-standing holiday tradition! Adults and children alike will enjoy the sights and smells of the festive creations displayed at George Washington’s Ferry Farm!

This year’s theme is “George Washington Slept Here” and a list of contest winners can be seen here (PDF). Visitors may vote for their favorite and this ‘people’s choice’ winner will be announce after the holidays. The gingerbread houses remain on display until December 30.

Ferry Farm is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m and on Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. The site will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Admission cost for viewing the gingerbread exhibit only is $4 adults, $2 students, under 6 free. There is an additional fee for a self-guided iPad tour of Ferry Farm. Visit www.ferryfarm.org for more details.

Historical Holiday Cheer

In the colonial-era, the Christmas season lasted into January and concluded on Twelfth Night, a festive evening to mark the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas and celebrated much like our New Year’s Eve is today.  While the entire period featured frequent banquets and balls with much food and spirits, Twelfth Night was especially known for its revelry.

Just as we do today, many colonial Americans got into the holiday ‘spirit’ with a glass of something special and warming on Twelfth Night.  Special drinks called for distinctive mugs, glasses, and containers that were both functional and designed to impress your party guests.  In these containers, early Americans enjoyed familiar festive beverages like eggnog, hot chocolate, hot toddies, and punch.  At the same time, some of their holiday drinks are now a thing of the past or perhaps only enjoyed by those imbibers with an appreciation for history.

Many of these holiday beverages were created out of a desire to preserve the taste of fresh fruits harvested in the summer and fall so they could be enjoyed during the winter months.  Cherry ‘Bounce’ is a great example of this – in addition to being fun to say!  Easy to make, cherry bounce was started in the early summer when the fruit is ripe.  Fresh cherries (traditionally of the sour variety) were placed in bottles and topped off with brandy then stored for as long as you could stand to wait.  Leaving the fruit to infuse as long as possible increased the flavor and lent a lovely red color to the brandy.  The decanted off-flavored brandy was mixed with sugar and spices.  Martha Washington possessed a recipe for cherry bounce that included cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and George Washington was said to have loved it so much that he took some in a canteen with him on a trip over the Allegheny Mountains in 1784.

Copper wheel engraved wine glass.

Copper wheel engraved wine glass.

Syllabub is another colonial beverage that has been forgotten.  Originating in England, this odd-sounding half-dessert, half-cocktail, was created by combining spirts such as wine, sherry, ale or cider with fresh milk – preferably so fresh that it had just come out of the cow and was still warm!  In fact, some recipes stated that a maid should milk the cow directly into a pan of your chosen spirit.  Unfortunately, this technique probably also resulted in some ‘barn yard’ material ending up in the concoction.  Sugar, spices and possibly citrus were then added.  While there are many versions of syllabubs, it often involved a frothy mixture of whipped egg whites, curd or cream that can be spooned off and eaten while you drink the liquid whey that separates beneath.  Served in a conical glass and sometimes displayed on a pyramid-shaped dessert tray with colorful jellies, syllabub made for a very festive holiday drink.

A Copper Wheel engraved dessert/fortified wine glass used to serve syllabub.

While many people may not have heard of syllabub and cherry bounce, wassail is a term that most are familiar with even if they’re not entirely sure what it is.  Actually, wassail was both a beverage and an activity.  Similar to today’s mulled ciders and wine, wassail was often served from a punch bowl passed around from person to person in an act of sharing and celebration.  The old Christmas carol “Here We Come A-Wassailing” describes the act of going from house to house singing and wishing good cheer while also sipping the punch-like drink composed of hot wine or ale mixed with spices, apples and sometimes topped with bread or toast.  But before you condemn our ancestors for drinking odd things, just think what future generations might think of what we consume today.  And perhaps try a colonial holiday beverage or two this Twelfth Night and evoke the spirit of holidays past!

Hand-blown mug for hot beverages such as wassail.

You can experience a dramatic theater presentation depicting a Twelfth Night celebration (minus the alcohol) at Historic Kenmore on Saturday, January 3 or Sunday, January 4.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling 540-370-0732 x24 or emailing hayes@gwffoundation.org.  Visit the events page on http://www.kenmore.org for more information!

Mara Kaktins
Archaeologist, Ceramics and Glass Specialist