I”ve always had a love/hate relationship with eggnog – love the taste, hate what it does to one’s waist. But, focusing on the more appealing aspects, few things conjure up the holiday spirit faster than an eggnog. So I got to wondering, how it all came about.
Many believe that eggnog is a tradition that was brought to America from Europe. This is partially true. Eggnog is related to various milk and wine punches that were concocted in the “Old World”. Specifically, it may have stemmed from one variety called a flip. This milk based drink was so named as it was prepared by rapidly pouring the beverage between two pitchers, or “flipping” it.
However, America put its own stamp on this beverage as rum replaced wine. In Colonial America, rum was commonly called “grog”, so the name eggnog is likely derived from the very descriptive term for this drink, “egg-and-grog”, which corrupted to egg’n’grog and soon to eggnog. Alternatively, others offer that the “nog” of eggnog comes from the word “noggin.” A small, wooden, carved mug used to serve drinks at table in taverns (note this differs from drinks served beside the fire which were brought to the patrons in tankards). Eggnog 1.0 is believed to have started out as a mixture of Spanish “Sherry” and milk, something the English called a “dry sack posset”.
The drink crossed the Atlantic to the English colonies during the 18th century. Since brandy and wine were heavily taxed, rum from the Caribbean was a cost-effective alternative. The inexpensive liquor coupled with bountiful dairy products, allowed the drink to become very popular in America. The ever adaptive consumers switched from rum to as its supply was reduced during the American Revolutionary War, to domestic whiskey, and eventually bourbon as substitutes.
In the 1820’s Pierce Egan, a period author, wrote a book called “Life of London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthina Tom”. To publicize his work Mr. Egan made up a variation of eggnog called “Tom and Jerry” which called for the addition of ½ oz of brandy to the basic recipe. As you might imagine the additional alcohol increased the drink’s popularity, making it a classic. Alas, the same does not hold true for the book.
Eggnog, in the 1800s was nearly always made in large quantities for holiday parties. An English visitor in 1866 noted, “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.”
The Baltimore Connection
Of course, Christmas was not the only day upon which eggnog was popular. In Baltimore it was a tradition for young men to call upon all of their friends on New years day. At each of many homes the strapping fellows were offered a cup of eggnog. As they went they became increasingly inebriated, it was quite a feat to actually finish one’s rounds. Baltimore even has its own version of eggnog. While traditional eggnog is made with spiced rum, the Baltimoreans use equal parts regular rum and brandy in their elixer.
George Washington, our first president,was quite a fan of eggnog and devised his own recipe that included rye whiskey, rum and sherry. Rumored to be such a stiff drink that only the most courageous would attempt a sip.
Those crazy cadets at West Point had an eggnog riot back in December 1826. Whiskey was smuggled into the barracks to make eggnog for a Christmas party. Alas, all did not end well, with the results being that twenty cadets and one enlisted soldier were court marshaled.
I hope your consumption of eggnog does not result in a court marshal. Have a wonder relaxing holidays with family and friends.