Saturday 25 January 2020

17th Century Sack Posset

If you start talking about the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries with me, you'll find I won't shut up for ages because I love those periods so much. For years I've done research on historical medicine, food, fashion, industry, traditions, politics, weapons, daily life, diseases, everything I can find to read or watch. Most of my research has hovered between 1650 - 1750 Britain and Europe, as this is when I've set my (I swear I'll finish it someday) novel. Also, several other writing projects in my giant unfinished pile are set then, and I like to be as true to history as possible so must therefore know everything.

Nearly every resource I've read on the 17th century references the diary of Samuel Pepys, so I thought I would just have to read that. And so I have been. Well, listening to it on audiobook through Audible, that counts as reading, does it not? It's 115 hours of listening, it's not a small undertaking. Everything mentioned in the diaries that I wasn't already familiar with, I looked up, and one of those things was "sack posset". I'm so glad I did. I think the mildly amusing name attracted me most, but I looked up as many recipes for sack posset as I could, written at the time. No two were exactly alike, so I combined the essential ingredients and rough ratios from every recipe I saw, and had a crack at making it. It was amazing. Warming, soothing, delicious, makes you all cosy and sleepy. Sack posset is generally served in the evening after supper, the last thing you give your guests before they head home.

I made an enormous basin of it on Christmas day for Mr Owl's family, and everyone enjoyed it verily. It's to be drunk hot, and is best enjoyed hot, but on boxing day, a couple of Mr Owl's cousins biffed the leftovers into an ice-cream machine and it was lovely cold, too! It felt like a Christmas-appropriate thing to make, but sack posset isn't a special occasion thing. It's for any day of the week, all year around.

But the fuck is it, I hear you ask? What is sack? What is a posset? This which we are making is essentially hot booze-custard. Posset started its life centuries ago as a strengthening medicinal drink, and over time became a sweet night cap. It finally evolved into such familiar things as custard and eggnog. Sack is a fortified wine which no longer exists. The closest modern equivalent to sack is sherry.

So here is the recipe and method, it's quite easy and only takes about 15 minutes to make. Obviously this is 18+ or 21+ depending on where you live because of alcohol laws, but I've heard the sherry can be substituted for orange and lemon juice, though I haven't tried it. The mixture can be thickened with bread crumbs if you fancy eating it with a spoon instead of drinking it, but I've not tried that either. Some old recipes suggest adding mace, crushed almonds, rosewater, musk, or even ambergris. It's a flexible recipe, you could experiment with whatever ingredients take your fancy.

Let us begin! This yields about 3 coffee mugs full, but is best served in teacups. You can warm the cups beforehand if you wish.

  • 400ml heavy cream
  • 300ml sherry
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • ground nutmeg
  • ground/sticks of cinnamon

  1. Pour the cream and sugar into a pot. Sprinkle a small amount of the nutmeg and cinnamon in, and stir. Some recipes called for a blade of mace, but mace is fairly expensive so I omitted it.
  2. Separate yolks and egg whites. There are several methods to do this, I like passing the yolk between the shell halves. You might have one of these doodads. Put the yolks into a large basin or similar. If you don't want to waste the leftover whites, you could turn them into meringues.
  3. Crack two whole eggs in, whites included.
  4. Add the sherry to the eggs and whisk together until eggs are beaten. 
  5. Boil some water in a pot that will comfortably sit the basin atop it. Place the egg-sherry mixture over the boiling water. If exposed to direct heat, the eggs will cook, yuck! Stir it continuously and test the temperature with a knuckle.
  6. Put the cream-sugar pot on the stove at a medium heat. Stir this regularly too. The cream should be taken off the heat just before it starts to boil.
  7. Once the egg-sherry mixture is warm, take the basin off the boiling water.
  8. Carefully pour the cream into the eggs, pouring a little at a time, and stirring constantly until all is combined.
  9. Ladle into teacups and enjoy!
I read that cushions were placed around the basin to keep it warm. It's important that it doesn't get too hot or else you'll end up with scrambled eggs, you want it at a warm, drinkable temperature. It's quite filling, you'll probably find that a couple of teacups is loads!

Watch the video:

Let us know in the video comments on YouTube if you try this out, and how it goes! Thanks for joining me, see you again soon! x


  1. Well done, the way that you found this recipe is really cool! Good to see you back!

  2. Hm .. no Sec .. but have you tried using Grenache yet? NOT the joke they sell at the supermarket, which doesnt have anything to do with what you get in France, but the original one, which essentially is a "fortified" or sweet wine ..

    Apparently, Grenache is one of the very few grape types that does not need fortification to reach high alcohol levels, easily topping the 15 - 16% on regular riping process. Or so I've been told - both by its lovers AND good friends of my family, who happen to be winemakers (with diploma = MSc / BSc).

    BTT: AFAIK its very similar to the taste Oloroso Sherry, but .. its a red wine grape.

    cu, w0lf.

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  4. Ohh this sounds delicious. And I like diving into this kind of history.. it seems so much more alive. I don't care which war took place when and the exact dates, but I LOVE learning how people lived, what the customs where, etc. :-)

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  7. A friend of mine is an amazing food historian (she can tell you the recipe for saffron sauce more accurately than anyone else reading this blog ), and she will hold up a book that details manor houses belonging to wealthy families from about the 17 th or 19th centuries with tiny bedrooms - barely any bigger than hotel sw guest bedrooms - and point out details about write my assignment them such as bedrooms being above servants' rooms, bannisters along the stairs to help with your free fall down the steps if you were holding a baby (obviously!), narrow wooden decks in each bedroom which could only allow 2 people at once, etc.'

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