Stirring up memories
Churning Up Christmas Memories: Scuppernongs and Syllabub
December 21, 2005
home glows with traditions at Christmastime. Children joyfully take
part—hanging stockings, opening gifts, watching bright-eyed at the
Christmas table. Year later those
same children will relish the memories of this treasured holiday.
East Shotwell, at number 443, such memories
certainly linger. This home, built
in 1899, has been a part of the Perry family since 1913. That’s a long time to store up
Perry, the present owner, has collected a lifetime of memories. He moved into the family home, along
with his parents, when he was only three.
He can’t remember a Christmas anywhere else.
mother, Mary Celia Davidson Perry, always made Christmas wonderful. She didn’t restrict her traditions
to the family. Each year, early in
the fall she began to prepare for the holiday by creating her own special
scuppernong wine. Through the fall
she tended large crocks filled with grape juice, stirring them at least once a
day. When she deemed it ready, she
filled bottle after bottle, decorating each one festively. They adorned the dining room becoming
part of the decoration, until it was gift exchange time; then friends and
family alike received the bottles.
friends appreciated the gift so much, Chip recalls, that they wanted to be sure
and make the next year’s list.
When the bottles were emptied, they’d return them to Mary Celia,
so that she could fill them again come the next December.
Not all the wine became a
gift. A little was held back for
another Christmas tradition Mary Celia brought from her family. “As far as I can remember it
was always syllabub,” she said, speaking of Christmas to Lifestyles editor of the Post-Searchlight,
Anne Laslie, in 1982.
delightful holiday concoction was the highlight of both Thanksgiving and
Christmas dinners, Linda Perry, Mary Celia’s daughter-in-law told
me. It’s been a tradition not
only in the Davidson and the Perry families, but all across the American South
and in England
no simple dessert. It involves
whipping cream, sugar, and wine.
And one more thing—a churn!
A special syllabub churn that pumps the mixture into a frothy, heavenly
blend. Mary Celia’s grandmother
used a churn and taught her granddaughters. Later, Mary Celia’s sister had
copies made. That’s the one
that was used in the Perry household and the one that Chip and Linda still
a metal cylinder that looks like a paper towel roll. It has holes in the bottom, and when you
work the plunger up and down, bubbles form on the top and you skim them
off,” Mary Celia explained in the 1982 article. She also shared her recipe.
Mary Celia Perry’s Syllabub
1 1/2 pint whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup scuppernong wine
the sugar in the milk, and then add the cream. (Use a big punch bowl; it’s going
to grow!) Stir well and let rest
for a few minutes. Then add the wine,
stirring it in gently.
the fun! Immerse the pump in the
mixture and begin to make bubbles.
As the bubbles form, skim them off into dessert glasses.
tastes like sweetened air because you serve the bubbles. And, it’s rich.” Mary Celia
and Linda agree. Chip remembers his
mom making it up right before Christmas dinner was served so that the froth
would last. Some folks suggest
bringing the churn to the table, but Mary Celia found that too messy. “Mine splashes too much.”
was also a tradition in the family of long-time Bainbridge librarian, Ruth
Marshall. Being a librarian, of
course she had researched it! She
found that it was a favorite in the George Washington household. The Washingtons served it at Christmas
dinner—just like the Perrys.
found one 1792 recipe for the dessert that insisted on really, really fresh milk. It called for “Driving a cow up to
the back door to milk it directly into the cup!”
a Christmas syllabub sound good to you!
Don’t let not owning a cow or even a syllabub churn discourage
you. Here’s a recipe that
comes close to the Shotwell Street
Twenty-first century syllabub
1 pint whipping cream
1/2 to 1 cup white wine or sherry (or
scuppernong wine if you can lay your hands on it)
juice and grated rind of one lemon
1/4 cup sugar
a large bowl and put in all ingredients. Beat continuously with a hand or
electric beater, skimming off foam as it rises. Continue until all mixture has
turned to foam. Put the foam in a pretty serving bowl and chill in a refrigerator.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network