The recipe comes from Elizabeth David’s pamphlet Syllabubs and Fruit Fools (which also includes some delicious Scottish specialities). She traces the history of syllabubs back to the seventeenth century. The simplest of all was a pastoral affair, a picturesque treat for town visitors to the country; a milkmaid would direct a stream of new warm milk into a bowl of spiced cider or ale. After a while a light curd formed on top, with a delicious whey underneath.
The more solid syllabub, the kind we eat today – the Everlasting Syllabub as opposed to the milkmaid’s simple affair of milk and cider – also goes back to the seventeenth century. In grander kitchens, cream and wine were used, though Sir Kenelm Digby, in The Closet . . . Opened, his notebook of recipes which was published after his death, in 1699, does remark that concentrated fruit syrups could be substituted for the wine. They should be on the tart side, ‘very weak of sugar.’
8 tablespoons (4 fl oz) white wine or sherry
2 tablespoons brandy
Pared rind and juice of 1 lemon
60 g (2 oz) sugar
300 ml (1/2 pt) double cream
PUT the first three ingredients into a bowl and leave overnight. Next day strain the liquid into a bowl and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Still stirring, pour in the cream slowly. Add finally a grating of nutmeg, beat the syllabub with a wire whisk until it holds its shape – do not go on too long, or too vigorously, or the cream will curdle and separate into a buttery mass.
Spoon the syllabub into small glasses or custard cups – there is enough for four to six people – and keep in a cool place (if possible, not the refrigerator) for two days or more. Of course they can be served straightaway, but it is usually more convenient to make puddings in advance and this one keeps well. ‘A nice sprig of rosemary or a little twist of lemon peel,’ can, as suggested by Sir Kenelm Digby, ‘be stuck into each little filled glass.’ Serve with almond or sponge biscuits.
From Jane Grigson, English Food, London, Ebury Press, 1974.