Posset

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Posset pot, Netherlands, Late 17th or early 18th century, Tin-glazed earthenware painted in blue V&A Museum no. 3841-1901[1] Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A posset (also spelled poshote, poshotte) was an ancient Greek fermented drink referred to in fragment 125 of Heraclitus philosophical texts (6 Century BC), made of oil, wine, cheese, old grain and shaken it to make it stick together.[2] 

From medieval times to the 19th century, in Britain it was a hot drink of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced, which was popular and used as a cold and flu remedy.

The word is mainly used nowadays for a related dessert similar to syllabub.

Introduction[edit]

To make the drink, milk was heated to a boil, then mixed with wine or ale, which curdled it, and the mixture was usually spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon.[3]

It was considered a specific remedy for some minor illnesses, such as a cold, and a general remedy for others, as even today people drink hot milk to help them get to sleep.

History[edit]

A 1661 posset pot from England.

The OED traces the word to the 15th century: various Latin vocabularies translate balducta, bedulta, or casius as "poshet", "poshoote", "possyt", or "possot". Russell's Boke of Nurture (c. 1460) lists various dishes and ingredients that "close a mannes stomak", including "þe possate". Posset is frequently used as a starting point for other recipes (e.g. "Make a styf Poshote of Milke an Ale", and "Take cowe Mylke, & set it ouer þe fyre, & þrow þer-on Saunderys, & make a styf poshotte of Ale", each of which is the first sentence of a longer recipe).[4] Recipes for it appear in other 15th-century sources: boil milk, add either wine or ale "and no salt", let it cool, gather the curds and discard the whey, and season with ginger, sugar, and possibly "sweet wine" and candied anise.[5][6]

In 14th- and 15th-century cookery manuals, a possibly-related word spelled variously "possenet", "postnet", or "posnet" is used to mean a small pot or saucepan.[7][8] In 16th-century and later sources, possets are generally made from lemon or other citrus juice, cream and sugar. Eggs are often added, some recipes used breadcrumbs to thicken the beverage.

"Posset sets" for mixing and serving possets were popular gifts, and valuable ones (often made of silver) were heirlooms. Such sets contained a posset "pot", or "bowl", or "cup" to serve it in, a container for mixing it in, and usually various containers for the ingredients, as well as spoons, the posset set that the Spanish ambassador gave Queen Mary I of England and King Philip II of Spain when they became betrothed in 1554 is believed to have been made by Benvenuto Cellini and is of crystal, gold, precious gems, and enamel. It is on display at Hatfield House in England and consists of a large, stemmed, covered bowl, two open, stemmed vessels, a covered container, three spoons, and two forks.

The word "posset" is mostly used nowadays for a cold set dessert loosely based on the drink, containing cream and lemon, similar to syllabub, it is also used to refer to the semi-digested milk brought up by babies after a feed.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.
"But I was by this time so weary that I could have slept twelve hours at a stretch; I had the taste of sleep in my throat; my joints slept even when my mind was waking; the hot smell of the heather, and the drone of the wild bees, were like possets to me; and every now and again I would give a jump and find I had been dozing."
  • Kay Harker, of John Masefield's book The Box of Delights, takes a posset to help clear his head, on the advice of the local police inspector. The posset is said to be a jorum of hot milk, egg, treacle and nutmeg.[10]
  • The Warden in Incarceron says that Claudia used to give her young, ailing tutor Jared sweetmeats and possets. This was used to illustrate how she only cares for Jared.
  • In The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, the queen of Harfang asks that one of the protagonists, Jill Pole, be given "...all you can think of—possets and comfits and caraways and lullabies and toys."
  • Mary Renault has Bagoas give Alexander the Great an egg posset with honey, wine and cheese to break a long fast in her novel The Persian Boy.
  • In the 2015 BBC dramatization of the Poldark novels, Verity Poldark notes that her duties include "[dosing] the servants with possets when they are ill."

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Posset Pot". Metalwork. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2007-12-09. 
  2. ^ "6 - MM McCabe on Heraclitus | History of Philosophy without any gaps". historyofphilosophy.net. Retrieved 2017-07-08. 
  3. ^ Hieatt and Pensado 1988.
  4. ^ Austin 1888.
  5. ^ Hieatt and Pensado 1988, Item 130.
  6. ^ Robina Napier 1882.
  7. ^ Hieatt and Butler 1985, Item 1, Diversa Cibaria; items 32, 54, Forme of Cury; item 26, Diuersa Servicia; item 32, Utilis Coquinario.
  8. ^ Austin 1888, Item 89, Harleian ms. 279; "Stwed Beef" and "Stwed Mutton", Harleian ms. 4016.
  9. ^ Rachel Waddilove 2006, p. 65.
  10. ^ "The Box of Delights". Home Cinema @ The Digital Fix. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 

References[edit]