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Syllabub from the Cow

cow 'What about pudding? Did you ask Mrs Lamb about pudding? About her frumenty?'

'Which she is belching so and throwing up you can hardly hear yourself speak,' said Killick, laughing merrily. 'And has been ever since we left Gib. Shall I ask the gunner's wife?'

'No, no,' said Jack. No one the shape of the gunner's wife could make frumenty, or spotted dog, or syllabub, and he did not wish to have anything to do with her. —The Far Side of the World, pp. 78-79

The dinner itself went well.... Attentive trolling from the wardroom lights had provided a handsome young swordfish; the Commodore's livestock three pair of fowls and a sheep, his cellar a considerable quantity of claret, unavoidably rather warm but of a quality to stand it; and the small Jersey cow a syllabub.... —The Commodore, p. 180


When last heard from on this topic, our heroines were anxiously awaiting a Blessed Event.



We can now report that Lynette, the gentle cow all black and white, gave birth in late November at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Nassau County Department of Recreation and Parks. On the 13th of December, she assisted us in our great endeavor, under the wary supervision of her calf Norman.

(While waiting for the genuine article, incidentally, we performed the Cow Simulation maneuver depicted on the Foods from the Yellow Admiral Page. There is historic precedent for this: Hannah Glasse says, "You may make this Syllabub at Home, only have new Milk; make it as hot as Milk from the Cow, and out of a Tea-pot or any such Thing, pour it in, holding your Hand very high.")

We are not by any means the first in our time to have attempted the historic feat of "direct-milking" Syllabub—in fact, the Petits Propos Culinaires for May and August 1996 featured a series of articles and letters on the subject. The making of this dish is apparently fraught with pitfalls for the unwary; and the stories told by the experts were so daunting that it is perhaps fortunate we did not read about their findings until after our own bovine encounter. If we had, the reports of mysterious flotsam in the bowl (the least among which are hairs, dandruff and other cow detritus best left unidentified) would probably have gone a long way toward dissuading us from attempting the experiment.

Worse than that, it seems that less-than-ideal pasturage (such as weedy grass, wild garlic, etc.) can have a deleterious effect on the taste and texture of the milk, producing stringy curds and disgusting smells.

Marty Jancheson milking Lynette Most fortunately for us and our cause, we had none of these problems: our syllabub was frothy and delicious. Lynette must have been very well-fed and very well-groomed indeed. Being a new mother, however, she was a mite "fratchety," so we reluctantly agreed it would be the better part of valor to let the experienced Marty Jancheson (left) take care of the business end of the operation for us. We are particularly grateful to Jim McKenna (on right, at left) for arranging the rendezvous.Jim McKenna


  • 2 cups port
  • 2 cups medium dry sherry
  • 8 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 milch cow
  • or:
  • 2 quarts unhomogenized milk
  • or:
  • 1 1/2 quarts homogenized milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • whole nutmeg
Combine the port, sherry, and sugar. In a very large bowl, combine the port, sherry, and sugar, and stir to dissolve. (We found it expedient to do this ahead of time and bring jars of the mixture to the farmyard.)

Milk the cow directly into the bowl until you have approximately 2 quarts of milk. (Be prepared to start all over again if the cow knocks over the bowl—or steps in it—both of which happened to us. In fact, we finally gave up on the bowl and used Marty's more stable bucket instead.)

Milking Lynette

Using the Bucket

(If you do not have access to a milch cow: use either unhomogenized milk or, as an absolute last resort, a combination of homogenized milk and heavy cream. Heat to cow temperature— approximately 103 degrees—and pour into the bowl from cow height; preferably using a soft squeezable bottle with a nipple and violently expressing the milk therefrom, to approximate the force and angle of the real thing.)

Pouring the syllabub into goblets.

Pouring the syllabub into goblets.

Pouring the syllabub into goblets.

Dust with NutmegPour the syllabub into goblets (as seen above) and grate a light dusting of nutmeg over it (right). Refrigerate an hour before serving—or drink warm from the cow if you prefer. Serves 8.

Variation: Staffordshire Syllabub—instead of port and sherry, use 4 cups cider and 1 cup brandy, and increase the sugar to 5 tablespoons.

The finished syllabub


"A Glass of Syllabub with you, Ma'am."

Copyright © 1996-2003 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.