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Posset pot, Netherlands, Late 17th or early 18th century, Tin-glazed earthenware painted in blue V&A Museum no. 3841-1901[1] Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A caudle is a hot drink, popular in the Middle Ages for its supposed medicinal properties. The OED cites the use of the word to 1297. The earliest surviving recipe, from 1300-1325, is simply a list of ingredients: wine, wheat starch, raisins, and sugar to "abate the strength of the wine".[2]. Another recipe from the late 14th century has more ingredients and more details on the cooking procedure: mix breadcrumbs, wine, sugar or honey, and saffron, bring to a boil, then thicken with egg yolks, and sprinkle with salt, sugar, and ginger. [3] [4] A 15th-century English cookbook includes three caudle recipes: ale or wine is heated and thickened with egg yolks and/or ground almonds, then optionally spiced with sugar, honey, saffron, and/or ginger (one recipe specifically says "no salt"). [5] A related recipe for skyr appears in the early 13th century. [6]

The word caudle also appears in the 14th century in another sense: as a fish soup.[7]

In a description of hazing at Merton College, Oxford in 1647, caudle is described as a "syrupy gruel with spices and wine or ale added".[8]

A posset (also spelled poshote, poshotte) was a later development (the OED cites the word to the 15th century). Milk was heated to a boil, then mixed with wine or ale, which curdled it, and the mixture was usually spiced. [9] It was considered a specific remedy for some minor illnesses, such as a cold, and a general remedy for others, as even today people drink hot milk to help them get to sleep.

Sometimes confused with Eggnog, the family of milk punches have a dramatically different taste.

In the Forme of Cury "possynet", translated as posset in the 18th C. is referenced as part of a sauce made from stuffing, drippings, and meat gelatin for serving over goose. In this case, the posset might have served as a form of thickener, comparable in function to a modern white sauce of milk, butter, and flour.

In 16th-century and later sources, possets are generally made from lemon, or other citrus, juice; cream and sugar. Eggs are often added, as well.

The preparation of posset could be elaborate, and the word "posset" became a verb, meaning to coddle or pamper someone by taking trouble to make them comfortable. Some scholars trace the verb "coddle" to "caudle", but others assign them different derivations.

"Posset sets" for mixing and serving possets were popular gifts, and valuable ones (often made of silver) were heirlooms. Such sets contained a posset "pot," or "bowl," or "cup" to serve it in, a container for mixing it in, and usually various containers for the ingredients, as well as spoons. The posset set that the Spanish ambassador gave Queen Mary I of England and King Philip II of Spain when they became betrothed in 1554 is believed to have been made by Benvenuto Cellini and is of crystal, gold, precious gems, and enamel. It is on display at Hatfield House in England and consists of a large, stemmed, covered bowl, two open, stemmed vessels, a covered container, three spoons, and two forks.

Lady Macbeth uses poisoned possets to knock out the guards outside Duncan's quarters, "The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets That death and nature do contend about them, Whether they live or die." Macbeth Act II, Scene ii

References

  1. ^ "Posset Pot". Metalwork. Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/40980-popup.html. Retrieved 2007-12-09.  
  2. ^ Item 5, Diuersa Cibaria, BL MS Add. 46919 ff, 19r-24v, reprinted in Hieatt & Butler, Curye on Inglysch, Early English Text Society 1985, ISBN 0-19-722409-1, p. 45
  3. ^ Item 43, Forme of Cury, various mss, reprinted in Curye on Inglysch, ibid.
  4. ^ See also Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books, Early English Text Society 1888.
  5. ^ Items 83, 84, 139, Yale MS Beinecke 163, reprinted in Constance Hieatt, An Ordinance of Pottage, Prospect Books 1988, ISBN 0-907325-38-6
  6. ^ Grewe and Hieatt, Libellus de arte coquinaria: an Early Northern Cookery Book, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies v. 222, 2001, ISBN 0-86698-264-7
  7. ^ Items 114 and 127, Forme of Cury, ibid.
  8. ^ Olmert, Michael (1996). Milton's Teeth and Ovid's Umbrella: Curiouser & Curiouser Adventures in History, p.174. Simon & Schuster, New York. ISBN 0684801647.
  9. ^ Item 130, An Ordinance of Pottage, ibid.
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