It’s long been traditional at this time of year to make mulled wine or cider and its something I too often do. It’s certainly just the thing for cold winter weather at Christmas time.
However there is a drink that is very more traditional and allows us to not just experience a Dickensian Victorian Christmas and instead we can go positively medieval with a posset.
Possets were long a winter staple and they are everywhere in literature. Shakespeare found them a good way to poison characters whilst Kay Harker in Box of Delights more conventionally has one as a remedy.
Possets or Poshotte’s as they were once known go back at least to the 15th century and likely much further and are the ancestors of the marginally more common egg-flips, eggnogs and even hot milk before bedtime.
Whilst eggs and milk or cream were key ingredients, something not to be missed is the adding of alcohol. You can pretty much use what you like, ale, wine or sherry and non-drinkers can substitute a fruit drink. Centuries ago the poor would use Ale whilst the more gentrified would use Sack which was a fortified wine rather like modern Sherry.
Possets were served in ceramic posset pots, which looked a bit like a teapot with two handles. They were usually very decorative and extremely expensive to buy. This dish is therefore one of a high standard. Posset was originally more of a drink than a modern day pudding and was often given to people in rich households when they were feeling unwell.
Below is an authentic recipe from the 17th century.
My Lord of Carlisle’s Sack-Posset
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.
Sir Kenelm Digby, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 1669.
Makes 8–10 posset pots or teacups
850ml (29 fl oz) thin (pouring) cream
1 cinnamon stick
1 mace blade
6 egg yolks
3 egg whites
230ml (7¾ fl oz) sherry or Madeira (for an alcohol-free posset, use orange or lemon juice)
100g (3½ oz) raw sugar
For something even more simple and manageable for just 1 or 2 people you can try this at home
Pour 250ml of milk or if you want to be indulgent cream into a saucepan and add a pinch of cinnamon. Warm the milk gently until hot.
In a separate saucepan, beat 2 eggs with 250ml of ale (or alternative), then add 50g of sugar and 1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg and warm gently.
Finally, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture from a good height to allow air and froth to appear.
Serve in mugs with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar and drink when hot.