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.
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.
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.
Here’s the Recipe:
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
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.