Publication Date

September 15, 2023

Perspectives Section

Perspectives Daily


  • Europe


Food & Foodways, Premodern

With over 12,000 posts on Instagram and numerous viral videos on TikTok, a simple 17th-century sweet is having a moment: lemon posset. To understand the current cultural cache of posset and why it’s trending with younger generations on social media, it’s helpful to look back on the dessert’s earlier “viral” moments. From the early 19th century to the 1970s to the 2000s, the repeated popularity of posset demonstrates society’s obsession with looking back fondly on the sweet parts of the past.

Instagram page with the hashtag #lemonposset and nine pictures of lemon possets in a grid

If you search #lemonposset on Instagram, you’ll find thousands of photos of this viral treat. Instagram

As early as the 15th century, posset was a ubiquitous part of British foodways—in fact, it was mentioned in three of Shakespeare’s plays. Like other popular dishes across history, no singular recipe for posset exists. Nevertheless, possets typically took two primary forms. First was a warm drink made from hot milk or cream, curdled with some type of alcohol or acidic liquid such as citrus juice, and flavored with sugar, spices, and herbs. Some included eggs, making a drink not unlike modern-day eggnog. Others were thickened with breadcrumbs, grated biscuits, or oatmeal, which would soak up the mixture and float at the top, turning posset into both a rich drink and a spoonable sweet. Often included in cookbook sections for invalids, possets were believed to be both wholesome and easily digestible, an ideal food for convalescence. A second type of posset, essentially a cooled and set version of the original, developed in the 19th century and became a popular summertime treat.

Several widely read early English cookbook authors featured posset in their texts. Elizabeth Raffald listed six different posset recipes in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1786), and English Housewifery (1789) by Elizabeth Moxon included several recipes, including one flavored with lemon like today’s viral version. These varieties demonstrate the dish’s socioeconomic flexibility. It could be made simply and cheaply with ale, a bit of sugar, and milk, or more luxuriously with cream, sack (a fortified wine) or brandy, as well as extra sugar, citrus, and additional imported spices like cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg.

In the early 19th century, after an influx of cheap and readily available citrus fruits and sugar (thanks, in large part, to colonization), the second type of posset grew in popularity. Pudding-eyed historians will recognize that this posset closely resembles another popular British confection, syllabub, but they are nonetheless separate desserts under the same cold curdled milk umbrella (cringe). As the century progressed, posset recipes became more and more—to borrow an internet term—unhinged. The cookbook Vegetable Cookery (1833) lists three completely different possets on the same page, each with their own flavors, preparation methods, and serving recommendations.

This posset closely resembles another confection, syllabub, but they are nonetheless separate desserts under the same cold curdled milk umbrella.

Fast forward to the second half of the 20th century, when “traditional” (i.e., 18th-century) British foods became all the rage on both sides of the pond. According to the Los Angeles Times, the trend was a response to the “large number of Italian, French, and other foreign chefs” who helped renew public interest in historical regional foodways and “traditional” cooking methods.

The 1970s tastemakers incorporating early English dishes into their modern menus largely ignored any historical context for their choices, except when it came to posset. Much to this food-and-women’s-studies scholar’s delight, posset recipes in this era were often attributed to Elizabeth Moxon. While little is known about Moxon’s life, her English Housewifery was first published in 1741 and reprinted 16 times until 1808. The lack of biographical information perhaps encouraged contemporary cookbook readers to romanticize her recipes. Moxon’s lemon posset “kept the mood” of a highly romanticized 18th-century-inspired dinner at Walton’s in London in 1976, and an updated version of her recipe was published in 1979 in Robert Carrier Entertaining by the popular American food critic, restaurateur, and cookbook author.

American consumers in the first decade of the 21st century were once again allured with the promise of “traditional cooking” in the form of an even further streamlined recipe for posset. For a collection called The Best American Recipes, food writers Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens sorted through hundreds of recipes and food trends and argued that “the exotic cuisine” of 2003 was British and the best recipe was lemon posset, “a classic English dessert, a cross between pudding and mousse.” A similar recipe for “the perfect closer,” Meyer lemon posset, was published in theLos Angeles Times in 2007. In its simplicity, and with a fairly familiar flavor profile, posset provided 21st-century home cooks with an easy and low-stakes method of interacting with the past. Posset’s relatively ruleless recipe history and wealth of historical variations allowed eaters the opportunity to romanticize the dish and how we consume it.

Its simplicity provided 21st-century home cooks with an easy and low-stakes method of interacting with the past.

Now in 2023, we’re having an 18th-century cookery book summer, complete with a contemporary take on lemon posset. In the thousands of Instagram posts, some show the simple dessert served in fancy stemmed glasses, much like it would have been in centuries past. Most, however, opt for the incredibly Instagrammable visual of a halved, cored lemon, filled to the brim with custardy posset and topped with delicate garnishes, including stem-on strawberries, bouncy chamomile buds, and even bits of gold flake. An Instagram reel by @cookingwithrel demonstrating how to make strawberry lemon posset has racked up 2 million views.

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A post shared by Ariel (@cookingwithrel)

Along with these romanticized serving instructions comes a cooking vocabulary reflecting current consumer interests and dietary preferences. On TikTok, where posts with the tag #lemonposset collectively have over 66.5 million views, there are dreamily lit videos of lemon posset captioned as “no-bake,” made vegan with soy cream, and posted with tags such as #summervibes and #aesthetic.

@aynaskitchen Lemon posset 🍋 This is something between yogurt and melted iced cream. Fun thing about this recipe is it’s sweet and sour For 6 servings: 3 large lemons with thick skin 300 ml cream 90 gr sugar Lemon zest Vanilla extract Recipe by: lioganesian (instagram) #lemonposset#dessert#easyrecipes#recipes#lemon#summervibes#aesthetic#aesthetic#summerrecipes#learnontiktok#fyp#asmrvideo♬ TREND OMARI.TO – user21675963706

@eatwithchrissy Vegan Lemon Posset! 🍋 -2 lemons, halved and gutted (flesh reserved for juicing / rind reserved for serving) -Reserved lemon flesh, strained through a sieve -45 g sugar -100 g @silk heavy cream – 1 teaspoon vanilla extract -1 tbsp cornstarch -zest of 1 lemon -mint for garnish 1. Add lemon juice, sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract to a small pot over medium heat. 2. Whisk, and cook until the sugar is melted, 2 minutes. 3. Add the cornstarch, and continue to whisk until thickened, 1 minute. 4. Fill lemon shells with about 2 tbsp of filling each 5. Top with lemon zest, and garnish with mint, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 6. Serve and enjoy! #lemontok#lemonposset#desserttiktok♬ golden hour – Ruel Remix – JVKE

This urge to romanticize posset on social media is part of a larger cultural interest in “traditional cooking,” a shift that tracks with previous eras of food trends that sought to incorporate past foodways into contemporary consumption habits. Where 1970s recipes for lemon posset were featured in the food section of newspapers, once the public’s go-to outlet for food media, we now see the same dish shared across platforms like Instagram and TikTok, digital spaces that are well-known as romanticized lenses on everyday life.

A pretty successful rebrand from what was once considered “invalid cookery” and untemptingly described as “like cheese,” now you, too, can romanticize the past and your summertime sweets with a batch of lemon posset.


Lemon PossetLemon Posset (for any century)Serves 4–62 cups of heavy cream2/3 cup sugarPinch of saltJuice and grated rind of 2 lemonsOptional: splash of vanilla, grated nutmeg, or finely shredded mint 

    1. In a medium-sized saucepan, add the heavy cream, sugar, and salt and bring to a very low boil.
    2. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce to a simmer and whisk vigorously until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, about 3–5 minutes.
    3. Turn off the heat and whisk in lemon juice, grated rind, and any of the optional additions.
    4. Pour into small cups, glasses, or halved lemons. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating until set, about four hours or overnight. Serve chilled.

KC Hysmith is an independent scholar and director of communications at the Museum of Food and Drink in New York City. Find her on Instagram @kchysmith.

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