While culinary historians debate its exact lineage, most agree eggnog originated from the early medieval Britain “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. By the 13th century, monks were known to drink a posset with eggs and figs. Milk, eggs, and sherry were foods of the wealthy, so eggnog was often used in toasts to prosperity and good health.
Eggnog became tied to the holidays when the drink hopped the pond in the 1700s. American colonies were full of farms—and chickens and cows—and cheaper rum, a soon-signature ingredient. Mexico adopted the very eggnog varietal “rompope,” and Puerto Rico enjoys the “coquito,” which adds coconut milk. The English name’s etymology however remains a mystery. Some say “nog” comes from “noggin,” meaning a wooden cup, or “grog,” a strong beer. By the late 18th century, the combined term “eggnog” stuck.
Eggnog purists argue that those who don’t like the Yuletide drink have simply never tasted the real thing. Sugar-laced supermarket versions can’t hold a candle to the homemade goodness, especially since the US Food and Drug Administration permits that the drink can be made from as little as 1% egg yolk. That often borders on “milknog” or egg flavoring.
Our founders would have had none of that. George Washington even penned his own famous heavy-on-the-alcohol eggnog recipe. Only one problem: he forgot to record the exact number of eggs. Cooks in his era estimated a dozen would do:
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.
Here’s another recipe:
- 12 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 qt heavy cream
- 1 qt milk
- 1 qt bourbon whiskey
- 1 cup rum
Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites together until stiff, then beat in a 1/2 cup of sugar. Beat the egg yolks until pale and light. Add the remaining cup of sugar and a 1/4 tsp of salt.
Combine the egg mixture with the milk and the bourbon. Beat well, then add the cup of rum. Pour into a jug and store in a cool place. Shake or stir thoroughly before serving. Ladle into small cups and sprinkle with nutmeg. Serves 30.
Make this about a week before serving to allow it to mellow. Scotch whiskey or rum may be substituted for the bourbon.
Death By Eggnog
And as you enjoy your holiday cheer, please drink responsibly. As you can see in the following report about Death By Eggnog, too much of a good thing can be … well… deadly!
The testimony and investigation into the death of Addison Williams, dated 18 January 1873, can be found in the Bedford County Coroners’ Inquisitions, 1813-1899. The collection is open for research and available at the Library of Virginia.
On 25 December 1872 in Bedford County, VA, Williams paid a visit to the home of Cornelia and Charles Abram. He arrived “about light” and was given a dram of whiskey by William Ogden. Ogden then made a gallon of eggnog, and Williams “drank a glass and repeated several times.” Everyone present “drank eggnog freely,” but Williams enjoyed it most of all, drinking more than the rest of the party.
He “left the house and threw up,” only to come back and take another drink. Afterwards, Williams “left in a run, as in a prank,” never to be seen again. Williams “had commenced showing he was under the influence of liquor,” but no one at the party thought him too drunk to make it home. As one party goer put it, “…as I thought he was going so well it was useless for me to go with him.”
Unfortunately, Williams could have used a little assistance. He was found on Christmas morning “dead and frozen” mere yards from his house. The resulting coroner’s inquisition determined Williams came to his death as a result of “being exposed to the cold after drinking a large quantity of mean whiskey.”