If you’re like most holiday revelers, you’ve got a few parties to attend this season. Odds are that upon walking through the door, you’ll come face-to-face with a large bowl of murky liquid known as eggnog.
Your first reaction may be one of confusion, but try to keep it together. Although eggnog isn’t much to look at, it’s impossible to get away from. Around the holidays, sales of this gelatinous liquid skyrocket, and so do the Web searches.
For centuries eggnog was prepared and served as a hot beverage and it has only been in the last one-hundred years with the invention of easy refrigeration systems that this holiday cocktail became well-known as a thick, cold beverage found in grocery store dairy cases.
Traditional eggnog recipes call for heating the egg-yolks and cream to form thickened custard, making this homemade eggnog a safe, delicious alternative to the commercial product for those who cannot eat raw or unpasteurized egg products.
Eggnog History and Origin of New England Holiday Drink
The history of the word eggnog, often spelled egg nog, is contentious. Some scholars say it is derived from a combination of the words egg and grog, a dilution of rum and water served aboard British Naval vessels to prevent drunkenness. Others believe it comes from the word noggin – a small wooden mug used to serve drinks in taverns.
Regardless of etymology, the holiday beverage has its roots in an old English drink called posset. A London recipe from Robert May’s 1678 The Accomplisht Cookcalls for “twenty eggs, a pottle of good sweet cream,” whole cinnamon, nutmeg and sack, a type of alcohol.
While posset remained a drink of the wealthy and elite in Britain, due to the limited availability of fresh dairy products by the average city dweller, American colonists had easy access to both dairy products and cheap imported Caribbean rum, making eggnog a popular and affordable holiday beverage.
The earliest known published mentions of eggnog appear in 1788 in the New Jersey Journal and the Philadelphia newspaper The Independent Gazetteer. By the late 19th century eggnog had become a social drink served mainly at holiday parties. Several recipe books, including Jennie June’s American Cookery Book of 1870, list separate recipes for “egg nog” and “Christmas egg nog,” the later including nutmeg and Jamaican rum.
Homemade Colonial Eggnog Recipe
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cups granulated white sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream, divided
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 3 egg whites
- 1 cup dark rum
- In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and granulated sugar until thick and pale yellow. Set aside.
- Combine one cup heavy cream, milk and vanilla in a large saucepot on medium heat. Heat slowly until hot and just about to simmer.
- Slowly pour hot milk into egg mixture, stirring continuously to temper. Pour back into saucepan.
- Continue heating on medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Do not allow mixture to come to a boil or it will curdle.
- Remove from heat, stir in cinnamon and nutmeg, then set aside to cool. Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
- Fold in egg whites into custard, along with remaining heavy cream. Add alcohol if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg before serving. Serves 6.
Other popular winter cocktails, such as hot buttered rum, also have origins in Colonial America. Both can be made using whiskey, brandy or bourbon as substitutes for Jamaican rum.