I had never heard of syllabub before visiting Colonial Williamsburg. It’s still occasionally served in the South but was extremely popular in colonial times, made either as a beverage or in a thicker form (with a higher proportion of cream) as a dessert.
Syllabub used to be made by adding fresh warm milk to sweetened cider, wine, or ale, which caused a froth to form on top. Some versions also contained egg whites. I just wish I could replicate the very dramatic recipe for “a fine Syllabub from the Cow” by Amelia Simmons, from American Cookery (1796):
“Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.”
Lacking a cow in midtown Manhattan, I followed a more modern recipe from Shields Tavern in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Adapted from The Williamsburg Cookbook
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
rind and juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup dry sherry
1. Whisk the whipping cream by hand until it thickens a bit.
2. Add the lemon rind, lemon juice, sugar, white wine, and sherry one at a time, whisking by hand after each addition.
3. Whisk the mixture for a few minutes until thickened to very soft peaks (be careful not to overwhip).
4. Pour into parfait glasses. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours, then refrigerate overnight. (Letting the mixture stand first results in a greater separation of liquid and froth.)
5. Garnish with mint leaves and berries, and serve. If this is too much cream for your tastes — or your arteries — use more berries and less cream.
Makes 6-8 servings.