There is just something magical about the holiday season. It could be the cinnamon scent that seems to permeate every home, or the crisp bite of morning air that hits you as you open your front door and welcome the day, but there is generally a specific moment for everyone that has that nostalgic feel that tells you that the holidays are finally here. For many of us, nothing ushers in the Christmas season like that first sip of creamy, frothy, cinnamon-spiced eggnog.
I was not introduced to this creamy concoction until I was well into my married life. Where I grew up, eggnog was not part of any holiday celebrations. In my early marriage, at a party for my husband’s company, I was handed a cup of eggnog for the first time. It had never been something that tempted me. I mean, who thought to mix eggs, cream and sugar and call it a drink? But, not wanting to be rude, I took my first creamy sip. Wow! It was a cold explosion of vanilla and cinnamon spice while the rum warmed my soul. How could I have missed this all of my life? So, from that point on, eggnog became a new family tradition. For the last two decades I have shared my love of eggnog with anyone who would partake.
The origins of eggnog have long been debated, but most historians agree that it can be traced to East Anglia, England. As a derivative of a drink called posset, a medieval European drink made with hot milk, it is said that the English added eggs to thicken the drink. The drink was actually originally referred to as the Egg Flip, because they would mix the warm milk and egg by flipping (or, rapidly pouring) them between two cups.
The British aristocracy took the drink to a whole new level by adding the expensive, and hard to come by, brandy, Madeira or sherry. The addition of the alcohol kept the milk and egg mixture from spoiling. This tradition crossed over into the British colonies somewhere in the 1700s, but the taxation on wine and brandy was so high that the colonists began to create their own version of the drink by using rum from the Caribbean as a more cost effective alternative. While milk and eggs were a high priced commodity in England, they were plentiful in the colonies, helping the drink to become wildly popular in America. They would serve this egg and cream libation in a noggin, a Middle English term for a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol. The bartenders of the day referred to rum as grog. So the original name for the drink was egg-n-grog, but over time it became known as eggnog.
During the Revolutionary War, when rum became difficult to find, the drink still gained popularity as Americans turned to domestic whiskey and eventually bourbon as suitable substitutes. It became popular at Christmas time for a couple of reasons. The first would be the Eggnog Riot in December 1826, when whiskey was smuggled into the barracks of the United States Military Academy for a Christmas Day party. The incident resulted in many being court-martialed and became a symbol of remembrance and rebellion. The other is that it became a symbol of wealth. To have access to cream, eggs, sugar and alcohol during a season when these items were scarce, showed an ability to monetarily provide when others found it difficult. The Christmas season became a great time to show wealth and plenty to any guest who should arrive, and eggnog became a symbol of abundance.
That tradition of entertaining with eggnog continues. Unlike the 1700s, we live in a time when milk, cream, eggs and rum are readily available all year long, so why is it that we wait for Christmas to make this tasty treat? Because we love our traditions! It is almost as if we can hear the Christmas bells ringing as you walk into the grocery store and see that first quart of pre-made eggnog waiting for us to slip into our cart. We don’t want our traditions to become common place, so we hold out for that one time of the year so that we never take it for granted.
Over the years many recipes have developed around the concept of eggnog. From those of you that are curious or may have never tried eggnog, to the hard-core nog-heads, here are some favorites that we hope you enjoy all throughout your Christmas season.