From the Back of the Drawer: A Syllabub Churn

STEPHANIE JANE CARTER (this article was first published November 14, 2012)

For more From the Back of the Drawer, just click the logo.

For more From the Back of the Drawer, just click the logo.

Each week, we rummage through the dark corners of our kitchen drawers to bring you an enigmatic item. We ask you to guess what it is in our weekly From the Back of the Drawer puzzle. To enter this week’s puzzle, visit this page. To read more descriptions of past items, visit this page. And, don’t forget to donate your odd items to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

This week, we found a syllabub churn!

Similar to a butter churn in appearance and use, this 1890s syllabub churn was used before handy electric mixers to thicken and froth this beverage that was most popular in Old England from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. It’s main purpose was aeration. It did gain legs in the America South in eighteenth century, where bourbon, rum, and brandy usually stood in for the wine or ale. It is still common in some areas of the South, particularly those wit ha heavy English influence, to serve syllabub in place of eggnog during the holidays. Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia sells a packaged syllabub mix.

Basically, syllabub consists of warm milk beaten with sweetened, spiced, cider, ale, or wine. Typically, the froth was set aside and allowed to separate. The clear liquid was poured into a glass and the separated froth was sometimes set on top of the liquid. The clear liquid could be sipped through the foam. The frothy beverage was considered fashionable and was served as a beverage or a dessert at dinner parties, card parties, and other events deemed socially important.

Sound tempting? Do you have a cow? For a more impressive presentation, it was common to milk a cow straight into a bowl of sweetened alcohol so that the mixture would froth. Wait – it gets even better. “When the concoction was left to sit for a few hours, a honeycombed curd formed on top,” according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Now there’s a presentation for your next CSA fundraiser.

Another version of this popular beverage was called Everlasting Syllabub. This version takes some advance planning because you need to let the syllabub sit for several days to allow the cream to rise and thicken. Lastly, the basic, versatile syllabub recipe could be turned into a dessert meant for a spoon in no time with the simple addition of a beaten egg white or gelatin. Just add ginger or lemon to complete it.

Take a look at the video to see our intern, Justin Avellar, try his hand at a modern version. Here’s his take on the cocktail he made and shared with SoFAB staff (sometimes our work involves drinking our research).

When was the last time you enjoyed the taste of warm milk, sugar and wine? Not many people have had that as a dessert or drink in over a century. A concoction this repulsive could come from no where else than 15th century England, where taste buds had apparently not yet been introduced. For some reason unknown to the modern historian, the Syllabub remained in fashion in England and Scotland through the nineteenth century. It even wormed its curdled way into New Orleans, where this late nineteenth century syllabub churn found its home. (Justin Avellar)

Okay, so Justin didn’t like it, but my guess is that it can be a pretty great winter cocktail served out of a punch bowl at a party. Here’s another opinion on syllabub from – and a modernized recipe from –

Our Rating: A practical tool for those with an interesting palate before the introduction of electricity.

Design: Simple, also good for churning butter

Originality: An adaptation of a centuries-old tool.

Practicality: If you really want a syllabub, buy a hand mixer


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