You will all be happy to know that I survived the Christmas office party. But only barely.
I don’t wanna talk about it.
As I’m writing these posts, I’m seeing a trend:
I hate many of these traditional items.
But that’s probably because I’ve only ever tried the commercialized versions. For example, eggnog. I hate eggnog. I think it’s thick and goopy and disgustingly sweet. I’ve only tried the commercialized kind so perhaps that’s why.
Eggnog (or egg nog, whichever one you prefer) is a thick, rich holiday drink made from beaten eggs, spices, cream, sugar, and alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.
Well, not always lots and lots, it really depends on your preferences, but I’m pretty sure my boyfriend would put an entire bottle of Appleton’s in his eggnog if he could (love you honey).
The British are credited with inventing it, but the drink, as we know it today, was created in America.
Eggnog is the descendent of a drink called “posset.” The word may have come from the Latin word posca, meaning drink made from vinegar and water. It was one of the many thick drinks the British enjoyed in the Middle Ages. Posset drinks, in their simplest form, were a mixture of ale and milk. They were made by curdling milk with an acidic liquid, like wine, ale, or citrus juice.
FUN FACT: The use of citrus juice to curdle milk is actually an acceptable substitute for buttermilk. Take one tablespoon of lemon juice and place it in a 1-cup measuring cup. Fill the rest with the milk of your choosing, and let it sit for 2-5 minutes. Ta-da! Homemade buttermilk.
The medieval Brits had a fondness for thick drinks and posset was one of the thickest. It was also used for medicinal purposes, mainly as a cold medicine. Another medicinal recipe called for egg yolks, aqua vitae (a distilled liquor), and fresh milk to be “taken” at fasting before bedtime for a good night’s sleep. Later, there was a posset made with brandy or Madeira that was used as a hangover cure. There was also caudle, ale mixed with sugar or honey and strained egg yolks that was said to be beneficial for men with weak digestions. Then there was aleberries, which was thickened with oatmeal and spiced with saffron, and good for ill men.
Other thick drinks included ale crowdie (uncooked meal and ale, made with treacle and whiskey and drunk at home in honor of the harvest), Lamb’s Wool or wassail (ale thickened with roasted apple pulp and made with sugar and spices, served on Halloween, Christmas Eve, and Twelfth Night), and buttered ale (mild beer or ale boiled with some sugar, butter, nutmeg, or other spice and sometimes thickened with beaten eggs or egg yolk). Mulled ale was similar to buttered ale but was prepared without butter and almost always contained eggs. There was never any concern about using raw eggs because for years the inside of the egg was considered to be completely sterile. This belief lasted until the mid-20th century.
Here’s a recipe for a mid-17th century “posset simple” It mentions the use of sack, a sweet sherry and the most well-liked version.
“Boil your milk in a clean scoured skillet, and when it boils take it off, and warm in the pot, bowl or basin, some sack, claret, beer, ale or juice of an orange; pour it into the drink, but let not your milk be too hot, for it will make the curd hard, then sugar it” (Wilson, p. 173).
In the later medieval period, posset was eaten as well as drunk. The curds and whey of the curdled posset were separated. The posset curds were mixed with honey and dairy curds and pressed into a solid shape. The “eating posset” was thick enough to slice. Eating posset could also be made by simply adding breadcrumbs to the mixture. The wealthy ate a rich eating posset made with cream and sack or brandy, reinforced with eggs, grated Naples biscuits (biscuits flavored with rosewater), and/or almonds. There was another version that seemed to be more of a cold cooked-custard that had a base of brandy, almonds, candied lemon peel, nutmeg, and topped with flavored whipped cream.
The recipe for drinking posset traveled to other countries and picked up new names. The Netherlands had advocaat and Norway had eggedosis. Some countries altered the recipe to their liking. France made lait de poule, which was non-alcoholic, and Germany had Biersuppe, which was more of an egg and beer soup.
In the mid-18th century, posset drinks and caudles changed. Sweet wine possets, made with cream and spices, had become quite popular. The drink was considered elegant enough to serve at refined supper parties. The sweet, rich posset was a treat, but expensive to make. Milk and eggs were pricey if you didn’t have a chicken or cow on hand. And let’s be honest, if you didn’t have a lot of money, you’d be selling those milk and eggs, not drinking them. The sherry and Madeira wine used was expensive as well and posset became a drink for the rich. Caudle was also made with wine, but it turned into something like wine-flavored gruel and was considered food for the invalid and poor.
By the late 18th century, possets, caudles, and all the other thick drinks began to fall out of favor in Britain. What had once been a coveted beverage was now just “taken” early in the day as a morning draught or in the evening just before bed. Period author Pierce Egan, wrote a book called Life of London: Or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorn and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. Egan, in an early example of guerilla publicity, invented a variation of posset called a “Tom and Jerry” made with an extra ½ oz.
However, in the 19th century, it was rarely in cookbooks. Prominent English cookbook authors like Mrs. Beeton thought it was too uncivilized to mention.
The name “eggnog” was probably of American invention. While the drink was slowly losing popularity in Britain, English settlers in the American colonies were making it ever more popular. The name “eggnog” could have several origins. One is the word “noggin”, a was the small, carved wooden mug that drinks like posset (strong alcohol and eggs) were served in. Noggin of egg. Egg nog. It makes sense. Then there’s the word “nog.” It’s a Norfolk slang word that refers to the strong 16th century ales served in “noggin” cups. Finally, eggnog in the colonies was most often made with rum, which was called “grog.” In bars one would ask for an “egg-and-grog,” which may have eventually been shortened into “eggnog.”
The sherry and Madeira used in England was expensive in America because of the long journey and heavy taxes. Rum came via the Triangle Trade from the Caribbean, so it was much cheaper and available in larger quantities. In America, eggnog was a tea-table delicacy and wasn’t tied to any holiday in particular. The first written reference to it was by author Isaac Weld, Jr. in February 1796. He wrote in a travel journal that, while breakfasting at Philadelphia’s City Tavern, he was served eggnog with breakfast. He described it as “new milk, eggs, rum, and sugar, beat up together.” Amelia Simmons, author of American Cookery (1796) records recipes for syllabubs she calls “Creams.” The one closest to eggnog is called a lemon cream, a hot dessert made with milk or cream, sugar, cider or wine, brandy, lemon, and nutmeg.
Once America reached the early 1800’s, eggnog was being made in large quantities for social events and mostly drunk during Christmas and New Year’s. An English visitor in 1866 wrote, “Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.”
Eggnog was most popular in Southern colonial taverns. It was such an important part of Christmas celebrations that in 1826, the West Point Military academy experienced a riot dubbed the “Grog Mutiny.” When the superintendent announced that the academy would be having an alcohol-free Christmas, cadets from the southern states, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, lead an out-and-out riot. They were accustomed to getting alcoholic eggnog on Christmas and, frankly, it wasn’t Christmas without it. After the riot had been controlled (no one got pepper sprayed), 19 cadets were court-martialed.
Americans used a great variety of alcohols, including rum, brandy, bourbon, whiskey, and sometimes sherry (if you had the money). Southerners preferred their eggnog made with whiskey, but they were also fond of a potent mix of peach brandy, rum, and whiskey. Eggnog was easier to make in America where most colonials owned chicken or cows. Milk and eggs were less expensive so it was not a drink specifically for the rich. Plus the abundance of liquor…it was kind of a given that it would catch on.
George Washington even liked eggnog and often served his own variation to visitors at Mount Vernon. His drink, how ever, was highly alcoholic. He used rye whiskey, rum, and sherry. No need to skimp, since he had the money. It was apparently a great accomplishment if you could endure Washington’s diabolic drink.
Recipes for eggnog were more common in American cookbooks in the mid-19th century. It was recorded under different names but each recipe had similar ingredients with only the slightest variations. In 1839, several cookbooks had recipes for cold drinks made with cream, sugar, eggs mixed with brandy, rum, bourbon, or sherry, and sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg. Sarah Rutledge published the first written recipe for “egg nogg” in Carolina Housewife (1847). Eliza Leslie, author of Directions for Cooking (1851) doesn’t specifically call her drink “eggnog,” but describes something similar to a cold posset, minus the wine or ale. It’s made with a mixture of eggs, cream, sugar, and rum or brandy and topped with nutmeg. Her “posset” was similar to the English syllabub, which I mentioned earlier. It’s possible that until the late 19th century the names eggnog, syllabub, and posset were interchangeable in America.
Eggnog became quite important in the 20th century. A story run in Good Housekeeping in 1900 published an article about Christmas morning eggnog traditions in Virginia. This is one of the stories:
“So religiously is this custom of the eggnog drinking observed that Judge Garnett of Mathews County tells a story of rushing in on Christmas morning to warn his father that the house was on fire. The old gentleman first led his son to the breakfast table and ladled out his glass of eggnog, drank one with him, then went to care for the burning building.”
That story may or may not be true. Old men are kinda wacky.
Modern eggnog is more or less the same. It’s made with cream, eggs, sugar, milk, seasonings, (sometimes) vanilla, and brandy, bourbon, whiskey, sherry, or any type of spirit. You could have eggnog spiked with vodka. I can’t believe no one has invented eggnog schnapps yet. Brb, getting a patent.
The American egg board has this recipe on its website:
“6 eggs, ¼ c sugar, some salt, 1 quart milk, vanilla, and seasonings. Eggs are beaten with sugar and salt, half the milk is added and mixture is slowly heated to 160. When it’s thick enough to coat a metal spoon, the rest of the milk is added and it’s removed from the heat. Cooled in the fridge before being served” (Hartel, 160).
A more traditional recipe uses raw eggs whipped with sugar and milk into a thick foam, then combined with cream, spices, and alcohol. But, as we know now, raw eggs are not considered safe for consumption and those using a recipe such as this are still encouraged to heat their nog.
One egg in 20,000 may contain salmonella enteritidis, hence the suggestion to heat the eggnog to 160. It can either be transferred through the eggshell (no matter how clean it is) or be in the hen before the shell of the egg is even formed. Salmonella causes cramps and diarrhea, but for people with compromised immune systems it can be deadly. Using pasteurized eggs instead means you don’t need to heat your eggnog at all. There have been studies suggesting that the alcohol in eggnog helps to protect against salmonella because alcohol has been shown to kill the bacteria. The reasoning would be that drinking highly alcoholic eggnog makes raw eggs safer. Like you needed an excuse. However, the FDA, in its infinite wisdom, disagrees. Commercial eggnog is always pasteurized, even if it uses pasteurized eggs.
Speaking of commercial eggnog and the FDA…
The standards for commercial eggnog are egregiously low. The FDA requires that only 1% of the final weight of store-bought eggnog be made of egg yolk solids (not even real egg yolks) for it to qualify. Eggnog flavored milk only requires 0.5%. I also think it’s weird that there is such a thing as eggnog flavored milk. Don’t fool yourself; it’s still got all that nasty stuff in it.
Speaking of nasty stuff…
The ingredients in commercial eggnog are as follows: milk, high fructose corn syrup, regular corn syrup, mono and diglycerides, tetrasodium phosphate, guar gum, carrageenan, artificial vanilla, and “egg base.” What in the heck is “egg base”? Also, my computer spellcheck doesn’t recognize the words “diglycerides” and “tetrasodium.” To top it off, a 4oz cup of commercial eggnog has 170 calories (half from fat), 10g of fat, and 70mg of cholesterol (1/4 of your daily recommended intake). At least it’s been cooked to prevent salmonella. Now, I’m not saying the homemade stuff is healthy (it’s really not) or even safe (unless you cook it), but at least you know what’s in it.
OH WAIT!! Store-bought eggnog is flavored with nutmeg! That’s a totally recognizable and normal ingredient, right? Can’t fake that!
I don’t want to know. Please don’t tell me.
These days, eggnog is also popular in other countries. Puerto Ricans have coquito, made with rum as well as fresh coconut juice or milk. Mexican eggnog is called rompope and was created in the convent of Santa Clara in Puebla (like mole!). It’s made with Mexican cinnamon and rum or grain alcohol and sipped as a liqueur. Peru makes biblia con pisco, eggnog mixed with a Peruvian pomace brandy (brandy made with what’s left behind of grapes once they’ve been pressed) called pisco. The Germans still have their Biersuppe and the French still have lait de poule. Iceland has a soup that resembles eggnog, but there’s no alcohol. It’s served as a hot dessert.
I’m still sort of iffy about eggnog. Maybe homemade is better, but…well…maybe I’ll try it. It’s interesting how knowing the history of something makes it a little more appetizing. Or less appetizing.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
Bibliography (now in alphabetical order!):
-Bowler, G. Q.. “Eggnog; Eggnog Riots.” The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000. 73. Print.
-Crump, William D.. “Eggnog.” The Christmas Encyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. 110. Print.
-Hartel, Richard W., and AnnaKate Hartel. “Egg Nog – A Safe Holiday Tradition.” Food Bites: The Science of the Foods We Eat. New York: Copernicus Books, 2008. 159-161. Print.
-Miles, Clement A.. “Christmas Feasting and Sacrificial Survivals.” Christmas Customs and Traditions, Their History and Significance. New York: Dover Publications, 1976. 285. Print.
-Nasvytis, Paulius. “Ohio Authority / Food & Drink / Cocktails 101: Ruminations on Eggnog.” Ohio Authority. Authority Media, LLC, 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://ohioauthority.com/articles/food-and-drink/cocktails-101-ruminations-on-eggnog>.
-Olver, Lynne. “The Food Timeline–Christmas food history.” Food Timeline: food history & vintage recipes . Lynne Olver, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html#eggnog>.
-Rayment, W.J.. “Eggnog – History.” InDepthInfo: Information Delivered In-Depth. W.J. Rayment, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.indepthinfo.com/eggnog/history.shtml>.
-Rognvaldardottir, Nanna. “Egg Nog, History of Egg Nog, Posset, Coquito, Biersuppe.” What’s Cooking America, Christmas Dinner Planning, Prime Rib Roast Dinner, Christmas Cookie Recipes. Linda Stradley, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://whatscookingamerica.net/Eggnog.htm>.
-Ross, Alice. “Wassailing on New Years, Hearth to Hearth.” The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.journalofantiques.com/Dec02/hearthdec02.htm>.
-Trex, Ethan. “Eggnog: Everything you need to know – CNN.com.” CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Cable News Network, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/12/08/mf.about.eggnog/index.html>.
-Wilson, C. Anne. “Multiple chapters.” Food & Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 2003. 157, 173, 375, 381, 389-90, 395. Print.
Photos, in order of appearance: