My book group meets tonight and as usual we are hosted at a member’s home and all encouraged to bring some food to share. What’s more, we’re asked to confirm with our hostess in advance what we’ll be bringing. It’s one thing to turn up with a spontaneous bag of crisps and a bottle of wine, but it’s quite another to email ahead, with malice aforethought and announce that that’s what you’ll be contributing. The pre-announced pot ‘luck’ raises the stakes a bit, especially as this is a discerning audience – last month we spent at least as long discussing chickpeas as we did talking about Khaled Hosseini.
So I have risen to the challenge. I dropped a casual-sounding email to the hostess for this evening announcing I would ‘probably be bringing honey syllabub’. You know, as if I was just tossing up between that and homemade pate de canard en croute.
Actually, it looked like honey syllabub was a pretty easy thing to make – I’d seen a recipe in the Bees Online Recipe Collection book, and thought that this would be an opportunity to test it. It has just four ingredients (and one of these – lemon juice – isn’t included in most recipes): 500ml cream, 5 tablespoons runny honey, 150ml white wine and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. You mix all together and then chill the mixture.
I was using sour cream because you can’t get any other cream – other than revolting UHT stuff – in Kosovo, I don’t know whether this made a difference, but once I’d mixed everything together the consistency wasn’t right at all. I tried adding another 100ml cream and I tried chilling it but nothing seemed to make the syllabub any thicker.
What would the book group say? I remembered the humiliation of the time I’d made rice pudding to take along, and everyone had doggedly chewed their way through it. ‘Mmm, interesting,’ one of my fellow readers said. ‘Does it have nuts in it?’
No, that was just the burned bits. But I told her (truthfully) that it was an Armenian recipe and everyone nodded sagely and swallowed hard.
This time it wasn’t the Armenians but the internet that saved me – with a bit of googling I discovered from the Oxford Food and Nutrition Dictionary that although the thicker version of syllabub is served as a dessert, the thinner version is a drink. I tried pouring out a glass of my exotic liquid and drinking it, and it was really delicious. Too rich for you to drink very much, but as a kind of ayran with bells on it was quite successful. I’m going to mention this fact to the book group tonight… I’m also going to stop off on the way and buy some more cream to stir in.
I don’t think they’ll complain, and just in case they do, I’ll be mentioning what I’ve discovered about syllabub’s literary credentials too – it’s originally an Elizabethan dish, which Pepys refers to in his diaries, and as if that wasn’t sophisticated enough, John Wesley once apparently likened all English literature to ‘whipped syllabub’. I think he was using it as an insult, in comparison to the chewier rice pudding that is Greek and Roman literature. But I shan’t allow anyone else to use my syllabub as a term of abuse this evening. If they do, next month.it will be crisps and wine, without apology.
For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.