The other day I was craving some good eggnog, and I wondered why eggnog was only a holiday drink? When did the eggnog originate, and when did it become a staple of the holidays? Let’s do some research and find out.
Eggs have been used in beverages for centuries. In ancient times, drinks were used to toast the gods. Early Northern European beers were often mixed with egg, which in ancient mythology was a symbol of life everlasting with promises of divine reward. When mixed into a beer it became a way to communicate with the gods via a hardy toast offering. Traditionally, their ritual demanded it be drunk from leather jacks, a material which in the mind of the warrior symbolized the armor of the day and was often considered the only suitable container of a masculine offering to their gods. Many of these toasting customs survive even today, although the vessel in which to toast has evolved from leather to pewter pots, to glass and mugs.
As far back as the 13th century, monks were drinking posset, hot milk curdled with ale or wine often mixed with eggs and figs. Is this possibly the pre-curser to the modern eggnog? These possets, made with sherry, madiera, and strong ales, eventually became very popular throughout europe and especially in England
where it was a drink of the upper class due to the expense of fresh milk and eggs. A London recipe from Robert May’s 1678 The Accomplisht Cook (Robert May, 1678) calls for “twenty eggs, a pottle of good sweet cream, whole cinnamon, nutmeg and sack.” However, in the New World, both milk and eggs could be found in abundance, as well as one other important ingredient. Rum. In colonial America, rum soon took the place of the fortified wines. And why not, it was cheaper, more abundant, and probably tasted better as well.
Here is an early recipe from Directions for Cookery (Eliza Leslie, 1851).
Beat separately the yolks and whites of six eggs.
Stir the yolks into a quart of rich milk, or thin cream,
Add half a pound of sugar.
Mix in half a pint of rum or brandy.
Flavor it with a grated nutmeg.
Lastly, stir in gently the beaten whites of three eggs.
It should be mixed in a china bowl.
During this time, eggnog became a celebrated holiday drink. As winter would set in and the holidays approached, the eggnog would be the social punch that greeted you upon your arrival at someone’s house. In fact, it was noted by an English visitor in 1866, “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.”
New Year’s Day was also a day for eggnog as young men in Baltimore would go house to house calling on their friends. At each they would drink a glass of eggnog, becoming more and more inebriated as the celebration went on. It was quite a feat to finish that day standing on your own two feet! Here are a couple of eggnog recipes for you to try.
Egg Nogg – Bartender’s Guide (Jerry Thomas, 1862)
1 tbsp bar sugar
1 tbsp water
1 wine glass cognac brandy
1/2 wine glass santa cruz rum
1/3 tumbler milk
Baltimore Egg Nogg – Bartender’s Guide (Jerry Thomas, 1887)
Take the yellow of 10 eggs and 12 table-spoonfuls of pulverized loaf sugar, and beat them to the consistency of cream; to this add two-thirds of a nutmeg grated, and beat well together; then mix in a half a pint of good brandy or Jamaica rum, and two wine-glasses of Madeira wine. Have ready the whites of the eggs, beaten to a stiff froth, and beat them into the above mixture. When this is all done, stir in six pints of good rich milk. There is no heat used.
Egg Nog – Savoy Cocktail Book (Harry Craddock, 1930)
1/2 oz powdered sugar
1 1/2 oz Liquor (Rum, Brandy, Madeira, Sherry, etc..)
Fill with milk
Egg Nog – (Jeffrey Morgenthaler)
2 large eggs
3 oz (by volume) granulated sugar
½ tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
2 oz brandy
2 oz spiced rum
6 oz whole milk
4 oz heavy cream
1 whole egg
2 oz spiced rum
1/2 oz Allspice Dram
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
2 oz cream
2 oz milk