Milk Punch

milk punch“Punch! ’Tis my Morning’s Draught, my Table-drink, my Treat, my Regalia, my every thing.” So speaks the title character in 17th century English dramatist Aphra Behn’s play The Widow Ranter, and apparently Behn was a big fan herself. After trying her beloved milk punch, I get what all the fuss is about. This blog has been focused on desserts for the last few years, but I’m going to make an exception for this drink, which is practically a liquid dessert anyway.

There are two kinds of milk punch. Better known today is the New Orleans version, in which you mix cold milk or cream with bourbon or brandy, and sugar or simple syrup, then serve the drink over ice. The result is creamy, sort of like eggnog.

That drink is good, but I feel it’s no match for the Widow Ranter’s “Table-drink,” which is now called clarified milk punch, or English milk punch. For this beverage, liquor, lemon, and sugar are mixed with very hot milk, which curdles as a result. The mixture is then filtered to remove the curds but allow the milk whey to remain. This may not sound appealing, and when you see the pictures below, you may have serious doubts. But this punch is amazing. It’s smooth, silky, and pleasantly sweet, with citrus and spice flavorings — served cold over ice, it’s perfect on a hot summer day.

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Syllabub

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. Continue reading