Winter is here in its depths. Yule merriment may have left us all with tender stomachs, or colds, or both. If you were lucky enough to have a cow in milk at this inclement season (or imprudent enough; January is definitely NOT when you want a calf in the barn!), you could remedy the problem with a bit of posset.
Put a pint of good Milk to boil; as soon as it doth so, take it from the fire, to let the great heat of it cool a little; for doing so, the curd will be the tenderer, and the whole of a more uniform consistence. When it is prettily cooled, pour it into your pot, wherein is about two spoonfuls of Sack and four of Ale, with sufficient Sugar dissolved in them. So let it stand a while near the fire, till you eat it.
TRANSLATION: (Once again, not much translation is necessary. “Posset” is fully defined in the glossary. Here, suffice it to say that it is a milk dish, which was recommended for a tender stomach.)
REALIZATION: This recipe is designed for a single serving. Bring 2 cups of whole (or extra-rich) milk to a simmer. Remove from the heat, and let cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the dish. In a heatproof bowl large enough to hold a minimum of three cups, dissolve sugar to taste (start with about a tablespoon and work up) in a mixture of two generous tablespoons of sweet wine and four tablespoons of dark beer or ale. Dissolving is easier if the spirits are also brought near, but not to, a boil. Stir the cooling milk well, removing any skin which may have developed, and pour into the bowl with the spirits. If you pour in a thin stream from a fair height, you will not need to stir further. Otherwise, give a quick stir with a spoon, just enough to mix gently. Leave the bowl where it will remain warm for about 20 minutes. The result will be a slightly curdled, but sweet and tasty mixture. Eat as a soup, with “sippets” (see glossary), or small slices of toasted bread.
This recipe is for a plain posset. It is mild, nourishing, and inoffensive. Possets were also drunk for pleasure by those fancying warm, smooth, sweet drinks, and were frequently alcoholic enough to make Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff happy. If you were fortunate enough to be able to afford them, other recipes for posset call for boiling considerable amounts and varieties of spice with the milk, or sprinkling them atop before eating,) and beating in large numbers of eggs to make a light custard with the milk and spirits. “Sack possets” were often made without ale in the proportion of about one part sweet wine to six parts milk or cream.
Posset: The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, defines “posset” as “a drink composed of hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, often with sugar, spices, or other ingredients; formerly much used as a delicacy, or as a remedy for colds or other affections.” Its use predates Digbie by a couple hundred years; it was referenced in the mid-1400’s by J. Baker’s Boke of Nurture. It said, “Milke, crayme,, and cruddes, and eke the Ioncate, they close a mannes stomake and so doth the possate.” (Translation: “Milk, cream, and curds, and also the junket, they close a man’s stomach, and so doth the posset.”) In earthier terms, they remedied diarrhea.
Sippets: Small pieces of toasted or dried bread, designed to soak up juices , soup, or gravy. Toast a slice of bread, trim the crusts, and cut in triangles. Serve with or in soup.