Praise be to Eggnog
A perennial holiday favorite
By Noah Salt
The leftover candy supply from Halloween had barely dwindled when the wife returned from the grocery store with a coy smile on her face.
“Guess what I got you?” she teased. “I can’t believe they have it this early!”
Before I could reply, she whipped a bottle of Homeland Creamery eggnog from the bag.
It was a nice surprise. Commercial eggnog normally reaches the grocery stores the week before Thanksgiving and disappears just weeks after the New Year. So to celebrate this early release of my favorite holiday drink, I immediately opened the bottle and poured myself a dram just to see how it tasted.
It didn’t disappoint.
Of course, as any connoisseur of this sweet, chilled dairy concoction — traditionally made from eggs, cream, loads of nutmeg and a healthy dollop of the appropriate spirit — knows, homemade eggnog is the gold standard for those of us who can’t get enough of the stuff at the holidays.
As holiday traditions go, in fact, consumption of eggnog predates almost everything in the modern Christmas setting save for the lighted fir tree and grandma Enid’s famous Yule log.
According to food historians, as early as the 13th century, monks in Medieval Britain drank something call posset, a warm ale punch made from warm milk, eggs and figs, curdled with wine and flavored with spices. Lore holds that the name derived from the Old English word for this strong beer brewed in East Anglia, eventually fusing with hot milk and frothed eggs and served in a small cup called a noggin near the end of the 16th century – hence egg meets noggin.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “eggnog” is an American term introduced in 1775 when Maryland clergyman and philologist Jonathan Boucher wrote a poem about the drink, which was popular in pubs and taverns of pre-Revolutionary America:
Fog-drams i’ th’ morn, or (better still) egg-nogg, / At night hot-suppings, and at mid-day, grogg, / My palate can regale
(Try saying that out loud after a few glasses of bourbon-laced eggnog!)
George Washington, America’s first president, reportedly served eggnog to visitors who called on his Mount Vernon home at the holidays, devilishly spiked with rye whiskey, rum and sherry.
For the record, here’s the Father of the Nation’s own homemade recipe:
One dozen eggs
One quart cream
One quart milk
One dozen tablespoons sugar
One pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey
1/2 pint Jamaica rum
1/4 pint sherry
The recipe, found at Almanac.com, instructs nog lovers to “mix [the] liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”
Taste too frequently and you may not be able to safely walk your guests to their waiting carriages.
Whatever else may be true, George was quite the social influencer, for eggnog quickly spread across the frontier to become a traditional holiday libation in Colonial America.
A recent check of eggnog recipes online reveals no less than 50 different recipes – all of which goes to show how one’s personal tastes and regional differences make this historic drink such a perennial holiday favorite.
These days, whether you make it yourself or opt for the tamer store-bought version, eggnog will sweeten your holiday gathering in more ways than one.