Pamper Me With Possets

Have you ever had a posset? It's a classic comfort food. Soft and gentle, like something that would pamper and console you. And we all have times when we need comfort food. (I certainly do.)

A posset is a very old drink, popular since the Middle Ages as a cure for a cold, or to warm you up when you come in from the cold. It was also a nourishing beverage for babies or for invalids and even a celebratory drink to welcome visitors or for holidays. Just what the doctor ordered—or what we wish the doctor would order.

The basic recipe for a posset involves heated milk or cream, thickened with breadcrumbs or oatmeal or eggs, sweetened, and with wine or ale added to curdle the milk. The hot posset was drunk from a posset pot, which has a spout like a teapot and the spout is what you drink from. The covered pot keeps the drink warm, and the spout lets you drink the posset without getting the foam on top. It also makes it easy to feed the posset to a baby or to an invalid too weak to hold a cup. Wouldn't this be a handy thing to have around the house? Pity no one seems to make these any more.

I found an early posset recipe on, the website of Ivan Day, the fascinating and learned historian of the culinary arts. This is the Earl of Carlisle’s recipe, recorded in Sir Kenelm Digby’s 1671 collection:

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; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your 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.

Before you faint at the number of eggs, be aware that a pottle, which sounds to me like a tiny amount, is actually about a half gallon. Sack, Falstaff’s favorite beverage according to Shakespeare, is a fortified white wine. I’m told that the closest modern alternative would be sherry, probably sweet.

With all that cream and eggs, to say nothing of the ambergris and musk, this is obviously a recipe to be made for group, and made in a wealthy man’s home. It sounds remarkably like egg nog, doesn’t it? The two are presumed to be related.

I was prompted to curiosity about possets by a recipe from London baker Justin Gellatly that I saw in the Wall Street Journal recently. (You never know where items of interest will turn up.) It seems that possets are making a comeback of sorts as a cold dessert rather than as a hot drink, and with citrus juice to curdle the cream instead of wine or ale. It sounds delicious—and easy—but I’m not sure why people want to call it a posset.

St. Clement’s Posset

1 pint heavy cream
2/3  cup sugar
Zest of 1½ lemons, plus juice from 2 lemons
Zest of 1 orange, plus juice from 1½ oranges

1. Slowly bring cream, sugar and citrus zest to a boil over medium-low heat. Immediately reduce heat to low and let slowly simmer to infuse cream, 3 minutes. Do not let cream boil.

2. Strain citrus juices into a mixing bowl. While whisking, pour infused cream into juice and continue whisking until combined. Pour posset into four teacups or small glass containers. Chill, uncovered, in the refrigerator 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and continue chilling until set, at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours.

The picture of the posset pot with lid, England, 1701-1800, is from the Science Museum, London. Welcome Images ( Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0



How wonderful. And a nurse used a pot just like that in Call the Midwife on Sunday to give liquids to an old woman - in 1960! I didn't know what the pot was when I saw it. Thanks for a delicious post.

Isn't it a pity that useful

Isn't it a pity that useful things fall out of fashion?

I learned something. :)

I had heard of a posset but must admit I had no idea what was in the recipe for one. Not sure I want to try one.

You might be interested in a

You might be interested in a syllabub. I read a recipe in which it was made by milking the cow directly into the ale or wine. Now that's something that would be difficult to manage these days.

Not even mixed feelings

I'm captivated by the history behind this but rather queasy from the description. I have a hard time imagining this as tasty. Jeepers, when my daughter was a baby, I couldn't even get her to eat creamed bananas without a struggle. I can't imagine feeding this to a baby and having it end well. I'm curious Lil, have you tried this?

Well, I don't keep a supply

Well, I don't keep a supply of ambergris and musk on hand! And I'm not sure this recipe is one you'd make for a baby. But if you think of it as eggnog, you won't be far off.

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