Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Lemmon Syllabub"

  "Syllabub was a popular dessert in seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. It was popular for celebrations, special occasions and holidays due to its festive appearance. Many original recipes survive with various modes of preparation. Generally Syllabub was made with a mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg whites, white wine, sugar, lemon juice and zest of lemon. The quantity of white wine added would determine the consistency qualifying whether the mixture would be a creamy dessert or a popular punch. White wine could be substituted with apple cider or other alcoholic beverages. One could always detect the drinker of the beverage by the thick white mustache left behind."

So speaks a guy named David Quidnunc(Somehow I doubt that's his real  name) on a  website for Samuel Pepys' Diary. Syllabub started out as a drink and gradually evolved into a dessert.  George Washington probably partook of syllabub while lounging on the porch at Mount Vernon at the end of a long day spent supervising his estate.  Close readers of Regency novels will remember their heroes and heroines having syllabub as a refreshment on a warm day. Our friend Tim, who sells antiques  and came to the Sunday night supper whence this was served, has sold syllabub cups.
I  picked it out of the cookbook  because it was quick to make. We are moving into the South here. Most of the dessert recipes that are left in New England are unsuited to hot weather, like plum pudding. The only caveat is syllabub requires the purchase of two off the wall  wines, Madeira, and cream sherry. Let's take cream sherry first. I like sherry. I learned to drink it in Madrid in the bars in the basement of Plaza Mayor when I was 22. A guy I was hanging around with introduced me to tapas bars, where the bartender first laid out a couple of olives in a small saucer. If  you bought another drink and tipped well, he served something more substantial. It actually didn't occur to me that  if  you wanted tapas  you could  buy them directly instead of trying to gauge a proper tip.
 If  one is going to drink sherry, drink it like the Spaniards do, without ice, and dry. That means Amontillado, Fino, or Manzanilla. It doesn't mean cream.  And now, I have a cheap bottle of cream sherry cluttering up my bar along with  half a dozen other bottles of weird, no-longer-drunk liquor.
I also have Madeira. Madeira, if you read the Patrick O'Brien books, was much favored  by seamen during the Napoleonic wars. It comes from the island of Madeira, a regular port of call for ships going either to the Americas or the East. It too was fortified with sugar to prevent it from spoiling on long, hot sea voyages. In fact, today, the winemakers heat the wine to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to replicate the process of tossing for weeks in the hold of a ship ploughing its way to the tropics. I don't think I've ever drunk Madeira, but if I want to, now I can. 
 Anyhow, Syllabub is a quickly made, elegant-looking dessert. Just don't decide to make it on Sunday afternoon when the liquor stores are closed. 

Lemmon Syllabub

Thinly cut peel (lemon colored part only) of one lemon
1 cup cream sherry
1 cup Madeira wine
4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar

1. Soak the lemon peel in the sherry and Madeira for at least one hour.
2. Whip the cream until it just begins to hold its shape. Remove the peel and gradually beat into the cream the wine, lemon juice and sugar until thick. Pour into parfait or wine glasses and sprinkle with nutmeg. Serve immediately. Serves eight.

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