Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Fun: Historical Picnic

It was a beautiful day for a picnic, but I was certainly glad not to have been the one tending the joint over the outdoor fire at the historical society's annual luncheon.  A colonial-garbed cook had been up for hours, turning the spit with the giant ham, as well as making traditional New England baked beans, roasted corn on the cob, strawberry-rhubarb pie baked in a Dutch oven, and "haymaker's switchel."

While everything was delicious--particularly the smoke-infused corn and the freshly picked rhubarb in the pie (one of his pie plates shattered in the Dutch oven.  Woe, the loss of a whole pie!)--it was the switchel which occasioned the most discussion . . . because it tasted like thick prune juice!  Apparently used as a thirst-quencher during haying season, the drink contains molasses, ginger, brown sugar, and vinegar.  That last ingredient isn't particularly unusual in eighteenth-century drinks; it's one of the main ingredients in shrub, too.  It provides the acid when citrus wasn't always easily available.  I think I would've liked it more had it been diluted in carbonated water or just plain water.

But I also loved the syllabub, of which there were two kinds:  one was the traditional layered drink of frothy cream and spirits, the other more like a boozy whipped cream with no separate layers.  Both were tasty.  In fact, the second reminded me of my paternal grandmother's Charlotte Russe, which is a cooked custard with alcohol, probably sharing roots with the syllabub.

It certainly made for a relaxing afternoon to spend some time with friends, with a great meal that I didn't cook or clean up after, and having a midday cordial!

A wonderful historically-inspired spread
See the glasses of syllabub and all the pies?


Haymaker's Switchel

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 cup molasses
1/8 cup vinegar
2 cups water

Mix together and serve.

Adapted from Mrs. L.G. Abell, The Skillful Housewife's Book  (1846)


Syllabub (the separating kind)

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup dry sherry
juice of two lemons
1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Beat until cream is stiff.  Spoon into glasses.  Refrigerate.  Let settle about 24 hours.  Mixture should separate with cream on top and alcohol on bottom.

NB:  Substitute Port Wine (3/4 cup) for white wine and dry sherry.  Substitute nutmeg for ginger.

historical society docent


Syllabub (the thick one)
2 cups of whipped cream
½ cup of white sugar
1/8 cup of white wine
1/8 cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
zest of lemon
Optional toppings:
grated nutmeg
sprig of mint
lemon slice
Whip cream until thick in a chilled bowl. When the cream begins to thicken, add the sugar, white wine, lemon juice and zest of lemon. Continue to whip until thick.
Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Spoon the mixture into footed parfait glasses and garnish with a sprig
of mint, a slice of lemon and a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

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