Friday, October 29, 2010

A Posset for a Pirate.

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1618, of Sir Walter Raleigh. The date of his birth not being known (it was sometime between 1552-54), this must serve for the day that we celebrate the life and achievements of this perhaps heroic, perhaps piratical, Elizabethan adventurer .

Raleigh did not leave a legacy of exotic food stories, in spite of his amazing voyages to the New World in search of the legendary ‘City of Gold’. He was certainly one of the first Europeans to taste the pineapple (and the armadillo), but was almost certainly not responsible for establishing the potato in Ireland, in spite of popular belief.

There is an early nineteenth century posset named for Sir Walter however, and it was repeated, with minor variations, in books, for many decades. A posset was ‘a drink made of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweetened and spiced’ (OED). Possets were certainly very popular in Elizabethan times, but I have no idea why Sir Walter would have one named in his honour - but as this recipe pops up two hundred years after his death, it seems reasonable to assume that it was named by one of his nineteenth century admirers.
I give you the earliest recipe I can find for this beverage – and it comes from yesterday’s featured book, by the mysterious Dick Humelbergius Secundus.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Sack [Sherry] Posset.
Boil a quart of cream, with a quantum sufficit of sugar, mace, and nutmeg; take half a pint of sack, and the same quantity of ale, and boil them well together, adding sugar; these being boiled separately are now to be added. Heat a pewter dish very hot. and cover your basin with it and let it stand by the fire for two or three hours. - Prob est.
Apician Morsels: or tales of the table, kitchen and larder, (1829) by Dick Humelbergius Secundus.

Quotation for the Day.

Sherry . . . a sickly compound, the use of which will transform a nation, however bold and warlike by nature, into a race of sketchers, scribblers and punsters, in fact into what Englishmen are at the present day.
George Burrow.


The InTolerant Chef ™ said...

I have to admit to ordering a very expensive glass of malmsey wine just because I have always heard it mentioned in books. I haven't tried a posset though, the thought of curds seems offputting.

The Old Foodie said...

Yes, drinking curds does not appeal to me either, I dont like my drinks lumpy. Bet the flavour is good though!

Vince Hancock said...

Here's an extra tidbit on the posset, mixed in with other holiday customs, as collected by 19th-century antiquarian William Hone:

Happy December,

Vince Hancock
The Chronicles of William Hone