To be blunt, I detest modern adaptations of historic receipts.
You never know where they came from, what cookbook, what
author, what century. Worst of all, is that you don’t know which
part or parts were “adapted”: was it an ingredient here or there;
was it the specified amounts of them; maybe the additions or
deletions of something; were changes made overall; or…what?
Yes, I prefer to use only the actual receipts from centuries-old
cookbooks. As I’ve mentioned previously, numerous times, my
goal is to be as historically accurate as possible, and I sincerely
don’t think I can do that with some “adapted for the modern
kitchen and/or cook” receipt.
At the same time, however, I have found those hated “modern
adaptations” to be sorta useful, on occasion. If I have an historic
receipt and a modern version of it, the latter can possibly help
me better understand the overall “how” of creating the former.
It can also tell me how NOT to do it, by virtue of the changes,
the very “adaptations,” made within it.
So, why do I bring this up? Well, because it’s part and partial
to my attempts to find the historic source of the 18th century
syllabub receipt used by Frank Clark, Supervisor of Historic
Foodways at Colonial Williamsburg, in the NPR Soapbox video.
I wanted to be able to direct participants in the recent Fireside
Feasts session out at Wyckoff to the original receipt. There is
one included with the video, and it’s similar to what Frank and
Liane Hansen made, but it’s from a 19th century cookbook, not
an 18th century one. The Carolina Housewife wasn’t published
until 1847. Yes, it’s possible that the specific receipt had been
around since colonial times, but it could’ve been altered at some
point, as well. Besides, I’d rather have an earlier, a true colonial,
receipt. It’s not as if they don’t exist!
Thus began my search for the complete, historic 18th century
syllabub receipt that Frank used in the NPR video. Surprisingly,
I discovered that, well, there isn’t one. Yep. I didn’t find a single
receipt that matched Frank’s exactly. dagnabit. What did he do?
Where’d he get his? Did he “adapt” one? If so, which one? Or,
golly, did he make it up?
First of all, in nearly all the 18th (and 19th) century syllabub
receipts that I found, the proportions of cream to wine (juice)
is two to one, not “equal amounts of each,” as in Frank’s. In
addition, other ingredients are specified, from liquids such
as sack (sherry) to assorted spices, including nutmeg and
cinnamon. So again, dagnabit, Frank, what have you done?
Is your 18th century syllabub receipt just another one of
those dang “modern adaptations”?!
Eventually, I turned to Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife,
which, in addition to being first published in London, England,
in 1727, was also printed at Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742.
Therein I found not one, but three syllabub receipts that may,
possibly, have been the inspiration for the one Frank used.
Seems appropriate, considering the book was published
nearby centuries ago. You’ll see, however, that although
each is fairly close to Frank’s, none is an exact match:
To make whipt Syllabubs.
Take a quart of cream,
not too thick, a pint
of sack, and the juice
of two lemons; sweeten
it to your palate, put it
into a broad earthen pan,
and with a whisk whip it;
as the froth rises, take it
off with a spoon, and lay
it in your syllabub-glasses;
but first you must sweeten
some claret, sack, or white
wine, and strain it, and put
seven or eight spoonfuls of
the wine into your glasses,
and then gently lay in your
froth. Set them by. Do not
make them long before you
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
into your glasses,
and let them stand
five or six hours;
you may make
them over night.
To make very fine Syllabubs.
Take a quart and half
a pint of cream, a pint
of rhenish, half a pint
of sack, three lemons,
and near a pound of
double refined sugar;
beat and sift the sugar,
and put it to your cream;
grate off the yellow rind
of your three lemons,
and put that in; squeeze
the juice of the three
lemons into your wine,
and put that to your
cream, then beat all
together with a whisk
just half an hour; then
take it up all together
with a spoon, and fill
your glasses; it will
keep good nine or ten
days, and is best three
or four days old; these
are call’d the everlasting
oops, sorry, keep forgetting…receipt was the word used for recipes
in earlier centuries