Syllabubs

Detail from ‘The sense of Taste’ by Philip Mercier 1680 1760 with a plate of syllabubs.

Detail from ‘The sense of Taste’ by Philip Mercier (1680-1760) with a plate of syllabubs.

Syllabubs are not exactly common in this day and age, in fact I’m quite sure that this is a word which a lot of people will not have seen until now. So what is this, and when did this earn its popularity?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first written reference to a Syllabub was in 1537, although it was written a little differently as ‘solybubbe’. Although it is more often looked upon as a dessert now, it began as a drink for the very wealthy.

The etymology of the word ‘Syllabub’ is separated in two parts. The first part, ‘sylla’, comes from Sille which is an area in the Champagne region of France and ‘Bub’ was Elizabethan slang for ‘bubbling drink’. From this, you could probably guess one of the main ingredients when it first gained popularity. It effectively started as wine mixed with frothy cream, with the emphasis being the frothier cream, the better. Apparently, a notable way to get this was by spraying milk straight from the udder (This technique came to be known as Hatted Kit) and was a favourite of Charles II, who reportedly kept cows at the palace for this purpose.

Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housewife:

“To make a Syllabub under the cow, put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.”

Some food historians say that would have in fact been rather impractical, and as anyone who may have attempted to milk a cow will know, a lot of practice is needed to reliably aim the milk stream. Historians also doubt that this was a popular method for the vast majority, as most recipes call for a thick and fresh cream instead.

Over time, the focus revolved more closely on the froth and by around the eighteenth century, they were no longer drinks. This favourite among the rich had transformed into a sweet and creamy dessert, served with an accompaniment of jellies not altogether unfamiliar to a modern trifle, if a little unassembled.

From what I can gather, it was somewhat displaced upon the emergence of Ice Cream, which was probably due to the comparative ease of making Ice Cream along with its simple elegance.

So let’s give this a try ourselves with the recipe below! I have sourced a non-alcoholic recipe for everyone to enjoy. (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • half a lemon
  • 75ml apple juice
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 140ml double cream
  • 10 strawberries

Instructions

  1. Grate half the peel of the lemon then squeeze the juice into a bowl.
  2. Add the apple juice, grated peel, lemon juice and sugar in bowl and soak for 30 minutes
    whiskcream
  3. Whip the cream until it is a little stiff, add the apple mixture gradually
    stiffcreamshape
  4. Wash, remove the stalks from the strawberries and cut them into large pieces
  5. Put the strawberries into the bottom of the glasses and spoon on the whipped cream
  6. Chill in the fridge. Serve the same day and enjoy!
    inglass

If you have a recipe which you would like us to talk about, or would like to share your own favourite recipe, please send it to harvey.kay@wsm-tc.gov.uk.

(photos from cookit)