Eggnog: The Yuletide Drink

eggnog-6A couple of weeks ago while putting away the grocery order, my wife discovered the market had included two bottles of eggnog without her knowledge. When contacted about the error, the store manager explained they were given as apology for the unusually large number of out of stock items in our order. So later that evening when I arrived home she informed me that, thanks to the kindness of our grocer, this year I wouldn’t have to make eggnog.

Later that evening as I enjoyed a glass of the free beverage spiked with a bit of Wild Turkey bourbon, my mind wondered: “What brought about the discovery of this traditional Yuletide concoction?”

Many historians believe that a 14th-century British medieval drink called “posset” was eggnog’s predecessor. Posset was a drink made of hot milk curdled with wine or ale, often sweetened and 220px-posset_potspiced with ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon. By the 16th-century, beaten eggs and sherry were being added and the beverage became a winter social drink with the upper class (after all, it was only they who could easily afford milk, eggs, and sherry). Popularity of this enriched beverage grew so much that special “posset sets” were designed and gifted for the purpose of mixing and serving the stuff.

By the 18th-century, eggnog found a whole new audience in the American colonies. Many of the colonists were farmers, so eggs, cream, and milk were plentiful, but since sherry was both scarce and expensive, our founders simply replaced it with much cheaper booze–rum. Later in the 1700s, many early Americans used whiskey or just about any kind of alcohol available to spike their eggnog.

The Eggnog Riot of 1826

The Eggnog Riot of 1826 took place in West Point, New York at the United States Military Academy on December 24 and December 25, 1826.

Earlier in the year, the Superintendent of West Point, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, had banned alcohol from the premises. It was a rule put in place because in previous years at the annual Christmas party, cadets had managed to bring a lot of whiskey onto the campus and mix up some very potent eggnog.

According to Smithsonian magazine at least 90 cadets partook of the eggnog and before the evening was over all hell had broken loose. Two officers were assaulted, windows were broken in the North Barracks, and banisters were torn from the stairways. There were also plates, dishes and cups smashed into little pieces.

It was apparently quite a night.

One month later, the school court marshaled 19 of the worst offenders. Ultimately, eleven of the cadets were expelled from the school.
Oh, one more thing: One of the revelers was none other than Jefferson Davis, future Confederate States President during the Civil War. He did not face expulsion

One thing is for sure, eggnog produced by the colonists was not for the faint of heart. One famous alcohol-heavy eggnog recipe created and served to visitors to his home at Mount Vernon is by none George Washington:

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, half-pint rye whiskey, half-pint Jamaican rum, one-quarter 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 egg until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

I can only suppose that George tasted his brew a little too frequently while writing down the recipe, as he totally failed to provide the number of eggs. His cooks at the time, could only guess the correct number to be a dozen.

It seems the etymology of eggnog, like so many of our foods, is somewhat cloudy, though a number of theories abound. The most plausible explanation may come from Frederick Douglass Opie, a Babson College food history professor. According to the professor, the term is a combination of two colonial slang words–grog (for rum) and noggins (the small wooden mug in which it was served in). It is thought the drink was first called “egg-n-grog” and later become eggnog.

Supposedly the first use of the word eggnog was in a poem by the Maryland clergyman and philologist Jonathan Boucher in 1775. However it was not published until 1834, some thirty years after his death. So the first time the term was used in print was in a 1788 piece in the New-Jersey Journal.

Traditionally eggnog is made from milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, and nutmeg. Some commercial eggnog producers attempt to save money by cutting down on eggs and cream and adding gelatin to thicken their product, so it pays to read the ingredient label when buying eggnog from the store. And while eggnogs made prior to the 1940s almost always included liquor, today eggnog-4the addition of rum, whiskey, brandy or sherry to either homemade or commercial eggnog is optional.

So there you have it. From a beverage that started out as a wine and milk punch used as a remedy for colds and minor illnesses, to an upper-class drink used for formal parties, to America’s favorite Yuletide treat. Eggnog.

Make It: My Favorite Eggnog Recipe

Deviled Eggs: A Heavenly Dish.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are centered around helping my mom in the kitchen. She was a terrific cook whose dishes, although simple country fare, were always flavorful and extremely well deviled-eggs-3prepared. Among some of my favorite foods were those she made for holidays and other special occasions such as birthdays and church potluck dinners.

One such dish was her deviled eggs, the stuffing prepared with the yolk of hard-boiled eggs, a little mayo, prepared mustard, finely chopped sweet pickles, salt and pepper. After she spooned the stuffing back into the egg white cavities, they were lightly sprinkled with paprika and placed on a special plate used just for that dish. The fact they lasted only minutes after a meal started is testimony of how delicious they were.

As much as some folks would like to credit this dish to the American South, where they are a staple at just about any gathering, deviled eggs got their start in ancient Rome. Boiled eggs seasoned with spicy sauces were commonly served as the first course (referred to as the “gustatio”) of many of Rome’s wealthy patricians.

From Rome, the popularity of stuffed eggs continued and by the 13th century recipes started to appear in Andalusia, a region known today as Spain. An anonymous Andalusian cookbook, as translated by food historian, L.A. Times columnist, and expert in medieval Arab cuisine Charles Perry, includes this recipe for “The Making of Stuffed Eggs:”

Take as many eggs as you like, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and split them in half with a thread. Take the yolks aside and pound cilantro and put in onion juice, pepper and coriander, and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and knead the yolks with this until it forms a dough. Then stuff the whites with this and fasten it together, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

deviled-eggBy the 1400s, stuffed egg recipes were commonplace in European cookbooks, and by the 1600s recipes for hard-boiled eggs, their white cavities refilled with yolks blended with all sorts of spices, mustards, and herbs were the norm.

So when did the name deviled egg come about? The first known written mention of “deviled” in the culinary sense appeared in Great Britain in 1786 in an article concerning “devil’d lamb kidney.” By the 19th century the term came to be used when referencing any hot or spicy foods, including eggs, ham, and seafood. It was during that same time period that stuffed eggs came to this country, and with them the term deviled eggs. However in some parts of the American South and Midwest, many religious organizations prefer using the terms “dressed eggs,” “salad eggs,” or “angel eggs” in order to avoid any reference to Satan.

The first printed recipe to suggest using mayonnaise as the binder for deviled egg filling appeared in Fannie Farmer’s 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, though commercially made mayonnaise was not available until 1907. In fact, it was not until the 1940s that store bought mayonnaise became part of the classic American deviled egg recipe. Today, most families would not think of making deviled eggs without mayonnaise.

Most countries throughout Europe have at least one variation of the deviled egg, although sometimes known by different names. For example, France, Belgium, and Germany serve a version called “Russian eggs,” not because they are of Russian origin, but because they are served on a bed of macédoine (Russian salad) and garnished with caviar. In Sweden, the yolk of their deviled eggs is mixed with caviar, sour cream, chopped red onion, and garnished with anchovy or pickled herring, and they are served as a traditional Easter Smörgåsbord dish.

deviled-eggsWhile the basic recipe for “classic” deviled eggs has not changed in this country for over seventy-five years, you will find that every family seems to have their own, albeit slight, variation. Some may use prepared mustard while others may prefer Dijon; some more mayo or less mayo; some pickle relish or, like my mom, finely chopped sweet Jerkins. And with today’s professional and celebrity chefs all trying to outdo one another, there seems to be no limit on filling variations.

But whether you prefer the classic mayonnaise, mustard and paprika filling, or a designer version with kimchi and sriracha, one thing is for sure, the incredible edible egg when deviled is a dish made in heaven.

Make Em: Sugar’s Deviled Eggs