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A posset is a hot, spiced milk drink, curdled with wine, ale or citrus juice, that originated in medieval Britain. The resulting drink had a thick, eggnog-like consistency. Over time, the recipe for this hot drink came to include eggs and cream, creating an even thicker, custard-like consistency. Possets were the drink of choice for wedding toasts throughout British society until the 1800s and were thought to cure minor illnesses. Elaborate posset sets were commonly given as gifts among those in the upper classes and royalty.
To make this drink in medieval times, the cook combined cream, a whole cinnamon stick and several mace flakes together in a pot. Egg yolks and egg whites were added to the pot in a ratio of approximately 2-to-1. The alcohol or citrus juice was then mixed in, along with sugar, nutmeg and ground cinnamon. Without stirring the pot, this mixture was brought to a boil. It was topped with a few sprinkles of sugar and served in a posset pot.
These possets had three distinct layers created as the various ingredients settled after serving. The foamy top layer was known as the grace. The middle layer consisted of the spiced custard, and the bottom layer was the spiced alcohol or citrus juice. The foam and custard were eaten together in what was referred to as spoonmeat, and the alcohol or juice was sipped through the posset pot's spout or pipe.
A modern version of the posset includes heavy cream, lemons and honey. The heavy cream and lemons are combined and brought to a gentle boil. The cream is then strained and boiled again as the honey is added. This mixture is then cooled slightly and poured into ramekin dishes. After it has cooled entirely, the ramekins are moved to the refrigerator until the posset is set.
Posset sets were given as gifts among those in the upper classes. One famous set, presented to Queen Mary I of England and King Phillip II of Spain by the Spanish ambassador in honor of their upcoming marriage, is on display at England's Hatfield House just north of London. The set is made of crystal, gold, precious gems and enamel. A large, stemmed bowl, a covered container, two stemmed glasses, three spoons and two forks make up the set.
Shakespeare made mention of a posset in Act II, Scene II of Macbeth. In this act, Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth soliloquize about poisoning Duncan's guards. She says, "I have drugged their possets that death and nature do contend about them, whether they live or die."
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