The “Fig Sue” Historical Posset; and things your history book didn’t teach you

Do you remember your grade school history?

George Washington and his cherry tree, the Mayflower, making construction paper hats, that kind of thing . . . but did anybody tell you that John Adams began each day with a tankard of hard cider, that the Mayflower was loaded with barrels of beer, or that after the war, Washington traded his sword for a whiskey still?

That’s because traditional histories don’t usually mention that our colonial forefathers (and mothers) swam in a sea of booze from breakfast till bedtime. Whether they were working, fighting, traveling, writing . . early Americans were often tipsy—perhaps rationalized by the belief that fermented drinks were safer than water. Back in the day, the day didn’t begin until after a “dram” of bitters or “stiffener” of beer.

Due to this boozelust, early Americans came up with an amusing variety of pseudo-cocktails from their pantry of ale, cider, rum, milk, cream, sugar, molasses, eggs, spices and citrus. You may have noticed that some of these drinks —such a “shrubs” and meads are making a comeback in bars and restaurants.

Let’s talk about the posset, because I recently bought one at one of my favorite neighborhood eateries.

Citrus Posset from Huckleberry Cafe

Citrus Posset from Huckleberry Cafe

You may know it as a custard or pudding type dessert as pictured above   but . . . .

A posset was originally a British hot drink of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced, which was popular from medieval times to the 19th century. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a cold and flu remedy and was more of a drink than a mousse. Lady Macbeth used a poisoned posset to knock out the guards outside Duncan’s quarters. These days a posset is a cold set dessert loosely based on the drink, containing cream and lemon.

As I was researching the posset I came upon a version called a “Fig Sue” which, given that it is Good Friday, and given the other facts/terms/wordplay as described below, is the indisputable choice for birgerbird’s Fiesta Friday #12 dish.

Fig Sue was a bread posset once served on Good Friday in some parts of the English Lake District. It was made with ale, bread, figs, treacle and nutmeg. I love bread, love figs, love treacle (molasses); used to but don’t anymore love ale. The figs were meant to represent the Crucifix, which was traditionally thought to have been made with the wood of a fig tree. Fig Sue was traditionally served from a ‘piggin’ or ‘bicker.’ I love that word ‘piggin’ and Lord knows I can love to ‘bicker.’

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.

A well made posset was said to have three different layers. The uppermost, known as ‘the grace’ was a snowy foam or aereated crust. In the middle was a smooth spicy custard and at the bottom a pungent alcoholic liquid. The grace and the custard were enthusiastically consumed as ‘spoonmeat’ and the sack-rich liquid below drunk through the ‘pipe’ or spout of the posset pot.

Foaming Posset

Foaming Posset; Photo by Ivan Day

I decided to make a traditional Fig Sue recipe that I found on the internet on some godforsaken ancient parish township newsletter column, which included a library of recipes.  It tastes like . . . Christmas pudding smoothie?  Yes, Christmas pudding smoothie.

This mixture of sourdough bread, ale (I used a belgian “sour ale”), sweet cream, figs, molasses, rum and nutmeg  . . . served hot . . . truly surprised me with its deliciousness.  It’s a tummy full, but if you’ve fasted for Good Friday, you can drink it as your dinner and it will satisfy . . . and probably transition you to dreamland.

Sourdough Bread Cooking Gently in Ale

Sourdough Bread Cooking Gently in Ale

Blended

Blended

Tall and Small

Tall and Small

IMG_3623

Here’s the Recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 pint strong ale

1/2 cup cream

2 Tbps butter

3 slices bread

6 dried figs

1 Tbsp molasses

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 Tbsp rum

Instructions:

Cook bread gently in ale with figs, molasses, brown sugar, nutmeg and rum for about 10 minutes.  Transfer to blender with butter and blend until smooth, thinning out with water if necessary.

Drink Up!

 

20 Comments on “The “Fig Sue” Historical Posset; and things your history book didn’t teach you

  1. This is so interesting, Sue! I feel so much smarter now that I’ve gotten my daily history lesson! And Christmas pudding smoothie…my mind is going in circles processing all this information! What a great treat to bring to our fiesta. 🙂

  2. I truly enjoyed this post, Sue… None of that I was aware of before… So interesting! I’ve never heard of a posset before, but I’m sure it really is delicious! I’m still laughing about our forefathers… As they built the foundation for our country… Drunk. Haha!

  3. This was really interesting. It is fascinating when food trends tend to disappear and come back again. Happy Friday!

  4. I’m still not sure if this should be served as a drink or a dessert, lol! This looks so interesting and a party pleaser, I’m sure, what with all those delicious flavors of ale, rum, cream and molasses! I love Huckleberry cafe (have we talked about this?), and go every time I am down there. Next time, I will have to remember to look for this posset. Happy Good Friday, Sue!

    • Thank you Ngan and no, we haven’t talked about Huckleberry . . . I actually like their other cafes a bit better but hey, they are all great. and next time you are in town you should shoot me a msg and I will come say hello and get your autograph!!! 🙂

  5. Fabulous post! I love to learn something new – but now I’ve learned something”S” new! Thank you 🙂 Never heard of a posset before and it sounds positively intriguing. Thanks for sharing something new and exciting on this Fiesta (Good) Friday!

  6. Excellent post – good for you to do all this research and share your findings with us. I think I would have to consider this a full meal – but worth trying for sure. And now I have a new word I like too.

  7. Wow, what an incredibly interesting post! I had heard of a posset before, but only had a vague idea that it was a drink of some sort or something for a cold. I feel completely enlightened now, thanks to your thorough research!. It does sound very good – I quite like the idea of a Christmas pudding smoothie – and alcoholic to boot! Thanks for such a wonderful post and for bringing your posset to FF. I will try one, please 😀

    • haha, well like I said the modern versions you see are like a custard and they are really really good, they must be loaded with heavy cream or something.

  8. This was a great read, really interesting… I’ve heard of possets, didn’t they used to milk the view straight into a bowl of wine, in order to curdle the milk? Good to know it’s tasty, as I’ve never been quite sure about the idea of curdled milk! Some old recipes are fascinating aren’t they?

    • Indeed, they are and love reading about them. This actually turned out to be really delicious, but some of the others I’ve tried . . . eek!

  9. You always have me intrigued by your unique titles and takes on history, not to mention enticing eats! I love learning about the booze-infused traditions of our forefathers 🙂 I like the idea of brown sugar and molasses with the rum – dessert and drink all in one. Cheers all around! Hope you had a wonderful weekend. -Laura

    • Hi Laura, so glad friends like you enjoy what I write about and let me know, it just makes blogging and cooking and researching so enjoyable, doesn’t it???

  10. There was one time when we used to go out for a coffee in the morning in Barcelona, and there would be all these people having, beer, wine, or whiskeys for breakfast all around us! I was always utterly amazed! Now I know that people have done this through history too.

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