Savor the Season
A Casual History of Eggnog

Eggnog and Fruit Stollen

Eggnog. It’s a “love it or hate it” thing, but I’m squarely on the side of the “love it” crowd. This is probably bad for my goal of zero holiday weight gain, but I’m sure it’s 100% good for my holiday spirits.

If you’re a lover like me, I’ll let you in on a secret: eggnog isn’t for sissies. This drink’s silky-sweet combination of egg yolks, cream, sugar and nutmeg (preferably with a jaunty shot of dark spirits) hides a long run of fame and notoriety. Eggnog is the scandalous rock star of the holiday treats world.

Records of milky cocktails like eggnog begin in England during the Middle Ages when a hot, spiced cocktail of boiled milk with wine or ale was recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as posset. (Great trivia for Shakespeare fans: the dastardly Lady Macbeth used poisoned possets to do away with the guards outside Duncan’s lodgings in the second act. Even proto-eggnog was a perilous drink.)

The inclusion of eggs to something like posset probably happened first in England, but the practice caught on more broadly in the North American colonies. And the “nog” of eggnog might have come from the word “noggin,” a small wooden mug used to serve hot cocktails (though if that’s the case, it seems odd to me that our only nog is the eggnog… shouldn’t there be a range of other nog types?). But it’s also possible or the word came from something the slurring of drinkers’ requests for “egg-and-grog.”

A survey of recipes features a wide range of ratios in the ingredients, and there’s no clear authority on which booze to use. Spiced rum is popular, but so is bourbon and brandy. Founding-father George Washington, who had his own DIY recipe, used all three, plus sherry. You’ll notice he’s very specific on the booze and a bit looser on the egg quantities:

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—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 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.

Also note his “taste frequently” comment at the end. That’s a president who knew how to mix a drink. We have to assume his holiday parties were VERY merry.

Here’s another piece of eggnog lore to impress your holiday guests. I’ll bet you didn’t know that confederacy leader Jefferson Davis was implicated in the 1826 Eggnog Riot at West Point, New York. Yes, you read that right. Eggnog riot. They sure didn’t teach that in my history classes.

Apparently, a group of wayward cadets were caught smuggling whiskey for the eggnog at their clandestine Christmas party. Their drunken riot included gunfire, glass-breaking, personal injury, profanity. Twenty were court-martialed…over eggnog. Takeaway: this is a drink that’s worth rioting over.

So while eggnog’s definitive recipe, etymology and potential for wicked effects might be in question, I think team “love it” will agree: the haters are missing out on a fascinating holiday tradition.

Are you a lover or hater? If you love the ‘nog, which booze do you choose? Fess up on the FreshDirect Facebook page or via Twitter (@FreshDirect).

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