It’s that time of year again, when grocery store shelves make room for the most controversial of all seasonal arrivals: eggnog. When it comes this yolky, spicy, satiny drink, there isn’t much middle ground. Some people are appalled by the richness, while others (myself included) can’t get enough of the stuff.
There’s an old adage about eggnog that if you’ve only tried the store-bought variety, you’ve never really had it at all. We tend to agree. Commercial eggnog has to contain no less than one percent egg, and often amps the sugar to extremes to invent flavor. This holiday, we want you to give the nog another shot by making, or just partaking, in the real thing.
WHAT THE HELL IS EGGNOG ANYWAY?
Eggnog goes back centuries. The English used to mix milk, eggs, spices, and ale into a hot drink and use it as a medicine, commonly called a posset. As time went on, that concoction took on variations as Europeans spread across the new world. Eggnog as we know it today was more or less invented in the American colonies where access to chickens, cows, and rum brought together the three key ingredients.
Eggnog was the signature drink of the Christmas season by the time the American Revolution rolled around. Noted bacchanalian George Washington kept a vat of the stuff on hand during the holidays. His recipe is pretty close to what you’d get to this day.
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 [a dozen] 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.
As the recipe indicates, eggnog was a massively popular drink in early American history, so much so that black-out drunken culture sprouted around the imbibing of the drink — proving that even our ancestors need to get hammered to get through the holidays. “In 19th-century Baltimore, it was a custom for young men of the town to go from house to house on New Year’s Day, toasting their hosts in eggnog along the way. The challenge: to finish one’s rounds still standing.”
In the 1820s at West Point Academy The Eggnog Riot, yes, RIOT broke out when the higher ups tried to ban alcohol from the usual eggnog preparations for the year. Two of the rioters were future Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Eggnog was such a crucial part of the holiday season for Americans that people were willing to riot over it — let that sink in for a moment.
As time marched on, and America industrialized, so did eggnog. As with too many of our food products, the FDA allowed eggnog to be adulterated for cheap and fast reproduction and distribution. This led to a glut of inferior products swamping the market full of “modified milk ingredients, glucose-fructose, water, carrageenan, guar gum, natural and artificial flavorings, spices, monoglycerides, and colorings.”
So, we really can’t blame you if you tried commercial eggnog and didn’t like it much. We counter that the original is a really straight forward and blissful recipe that warms the cockles of your very soul.