“Be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house” William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Dating back to the middle ages, the posset is making a comeback. Like a custard crossed with a pudding, it’s perfect when you want to whip up a special dessert with minimal effort. It’s made with three ingredients, honey, lilac-infused cream and lemon juice – that’s it. These are gently boiled together and chilled overnight. There are no egg yolks, gelatin, flour, or cornstarch. It relies on the lemon juice to thicken and set – and the result is simply divine.
You’ll need to begin by removing all the blossoms from their tiny stems. I find that if you include any of the greenery, it interferes with the floral flavour – making it a bit vegetal tasting. And we want just the pure sweet fragrance of lilac in a posset!
And if lilac isn’t wonderful enough, try infusing your posset with spring flowers like wild rose or elderflower. Jennifer created Elderflower Posset (she tossed in a few of our native red elderflowers as well) and we’re both enamoured with rose posset as well! But whatever floral you use, remember you need to keep the lemon, it acidifies the cream, causing the casein proteins in the cream to set.
Today’s posset is very different from the one often referred to by Shakespeare, a drink made from curdled milk, sugar, alcohol and sack, (a fortified wine or sweet ale similar to sherry). I like this 1596 recipe from The Good Housewife’s Jewel “Take a pint of thick cream, and season it with sugar and ginger, and rose water. So stir it as you would then have it make it lukewarm in a dish on a chafing dish and coals. And after put it into a silver piece or a bowl, and so serve it to the board.”
By the 18th century, possets are made from milk, but thickened with egg yolks (like custard) or bread (like a trifle). But the modern posset recipes now making the rounds, are more like basic puddings (no, not the Jello). And they’re often served slathered on scones or with shortbread biscuits.
Puddings today are not thought to be good for the health, but possets certainly were. Used as a general “restorative” to fortify the body, or as a curative to banish colds and illness, possets were a delicious way to make the medicine go down. A 19th century recipe mentions a black pepper flavoured posset that will ‘promote perspiration’ in order to sweat out a fever. Flowers of course, bring their own healing properties, elderflower and rose for example are both known for their anti-inflammatory constituents.
Possets were often served at weddings and used in toasts at all levels of society. Which means you just might find them served at upcoming Gather nuptials. Like, lets say a Rose Posset made with rose brandy and a yarrow infused honey (good for ensuring love, fidelity and marital bliss).
Sometimes a wedding ring was thrown in the posset pot and the person who found it was next to head to the altar. You would use a spoon to eat the top layers and then drink the wine through the spout in the cup. With an alcoholic base at bottom and creamy layer on top, it actually sounds quite delicious. Needless to say I’ll be experimenting with a boozy wedding-inspired posset shortly.
So if you love the scent of lilacs, you’ll be enchanted by this Lilac Honey Posset. But if love roses, well that’s heavenly too. I’m moving on to lavender, whose buds are plumping and readying for harvest. But whatever floral you choose, I’m willing to bet you’ll soon find yourself (like us!) enthralled with the old-fashioned charm of the posset.
Lilac Honey Posset (or Rose, Elderflower etc.)
Makes about 6 portions.
- 4 cups cream (heavy or regular whipping cream both work)
- ½ cup honey
- ⅓ cup lemon juice
- 2 cups fresh lilac blossoms (be sure to remove all stems, especially from the Lilac & Elderflower…and if you’re using lavender, you’ll need just half a cup!)
- wee pinch of salt & cardamom (if you’re so inclined)
- Remove all stems from your half of your lilac blossoms. Soak these in cream overnight or at least 4 hours. You can also gently warm on a warming burner.
- Strain lilacs from cream before using.
- Remove the rest of the petals of the rest of your blossoms. (You could do all the petals at once but I like to keep the blossoms as fresh as possible.)
- Mix honey and cream together, heat to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Stir to make sure honey and cream are well combined. You do not want a roiling boil – just a few light bubbles. A heavy boil will spoil the cream!
- Reduce to a simmer for 3 minutes, and keep stirring! Then add lemon juice and stir some more.
- Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and then mix in the other half of your blossoms. Allow to infuse for ten minutes.
- Strain off flowers and pour your cream mixture into small jars or ramekins.
- Cover tightly and chill overnight (or at least 4 hours).
Some say you can stick in the freezer for 30-40 minutes (if you’re in rush to sample your just desserts) but we’ve both found they won’t decently set unless left for 24 hrs.