One entertaining aspect of researching for the exhibition Uncorked! Wine, Objects & Tradition was the discovery of some wonderful period quotes. For example, let’s take the subject of posset pots. You’ve never heard of posset? Well, that’s not surprising, since this drink went out of fashion over two centuries ago.
Drinks called posset were made from various recipes and were being mixed in Europe by the Middle Ages. During that time it seems mostly to have been for medicinal use. By the 1600s, it was becoming popular as a beverage that one might share more publicly among guests. By then, posset typically featured spiced, warm wine mixed with milk or cream. The dairy ingredients, not surprisingly, curdled and floated to the top. (Believe it or not, posset tastes pretty good. The wine’s a bit tart, but you’ll want a second sip, and the curds are sweet-and-spicy.)
Specialized drinking vessels called “posset pots” were made in silver and other metalwork and nearly all types of ceramics. They featured large bellies, lids and, typically, two opposing handles. The straw-like spout at the front was used not for pouring but for sucking out the liquor before handing the pot over to ones neighbor for a drink. (Remember! This was “before germs!”) The curds were eaten with a spoon.
There were many recipes for posset. The one below features “sack,” a reference to some southern European wines, including Malaga Sack, Canary Sack, Madeira Sack, etc., typically associated with Spain or the Canary Islands. Rather than being truly for a drink, this seems to be a recipe for romance…
A Receipt for all young Ladies that are going to be Married. To Make a
From famed Barbados on the Western Main
Fetch sugar half a pound; fetch sack from Spain
A pint; and from the Eastern Indian Coast
Nutmeg, the glory of our Northern toast.
O’er flaming coals together let them heat
Till the all-conquering sack dissolves the sweet.
O’er such another fire set eggs, twice ten,
New born from crowing cock and speckled hen;
Stir them with steady hand, and conscience pricking
To see the untimely fate of twenty chicken.
From shining shelf take down your brazen skillet,
A quart of milk from gentle cow will fill it.
When boiled and cooked, put milk and sack to egg,
Unite them firmly like the triple League.
Then covered close, together let them dwell
Till Miss twice sings: You must not kiss and tell.
Each lad and lass snatch up their murdering spoon,
And fall on fiercely like a starved dragoon.
Sir Fleetwood Fletcher(?), New York Gazette, February 13, 1744
Leslie B. Grigsby joined the Winterthur staff in 1999 and is responsible for the museum’s 22,000 ceramic and glass objects. Since joining Winterthur, she has worked intensively on displays in the 175 house rooms and the Ceramics & Glass Gallery. She has hosted and curated several exhibitions focusing on ceramics and glass as well as objects and traditions associated with alcoholic beverages, tea, and coffee. Her most recent work, of course, has been towards Winterthur’s current major exhibition, Uncorked! Wine, Objects & Tradition.