Eggnog is far older than most suspect. It wasn’t invented recently. It has many forms, and many, many names. Historians and Etymologists bandy back and forth about the name, wondering if it originates from one of about ten different sources from Germany to Scotland, to the colonies. The simple truth is, that it is all and none. “Noggin” or “nugge” is a very old word, and it refers to the glass in which hot drinks were served, a “mug”. You may listen to men of science, debating when the exact word “eggnog” must have come about, but that would be silly, in my opinion, because it came about through constant reintroduction of old memories, old ways, and old languages, then was jumbled up again and again in the slang culture of the early Americas.
Warm eggs and alcohol have been a standard since antiquity. They were drunk in the colder months for obvious reasons. Their types range from drinks made with wine, to biersuppe, a German warm soup made from beer, to very loose custards, to curled concoctions that are strange to the modern eye. Here, I will give you a long history of my favorites. You will see the spices shift as the spice trade with he east died and then was reforged with sea power, you will see the introduction of fine white sugar and rum from the Americas. You may wish to make them all, and watch the progress of time through one single food.
Please assume that for all the following recipes, you will need the following:
- a mixer (hand held works fine in this case)
- a saucepan
- egg separator
- fine grater
- a whisk
Caudell, a recipe
Very few cook books have survived the eras to mark the existence of the great variety of dishes and their countless preparations, and so no source exists for this recipe. You will have to take my word that it was a drink of choice, particularly for the ill. Saffron was seen to have mystical qualities to the Medieval mind, and it was used in almost everything. Keep in mind that this saffron was not the sort you see today in your grocer’s spice aisle. This was the saffron that now costs hundreds of dollar per ounce — true saffron— and we worked it by the handful.
I recommend eating this with the notion that it is a semi-savory soup. It might assist the modern palette to adjust.
- 12 egg yolks
- 2 cups of ale or sack (white wine) I recommend ale for authenticity. The poor could
- often not afford sack
- 1 tsp saffron
- 1/2 tsp salt
- i leaf of mace
- several tablespoons of sugar to taste
- Beat the yolks into the ale, and then put the pot over medium heat, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken and become frothy.
- Once this comes to a boil immediately drop the heat to low and beat in the other ingredients, adjusting to taste
Serve in an open, bowl-like mug
Posset, a recipe
Possets were a kind of custard, sometimes loose enough to be drunk in a mug. In my day they were used primarily as medicine for the sick, or as fortifying drinks for travelers or for the clergy.
- 1/2 gallon whole milk
- several blades of mace
- Fresh nutmeg
- 18 egg yolks, plus 8 egg whites
- 1 pint of sack (white wine)
- 1 1/2 c sugar
- Put the milk into a pot and add some cinnamon and mace, and bring to a simmer
- While the milk is heating through, in another pot beat the eggs thoroughly. add the wine, a grated nutmeg, more fresh cinnamon, and the sugar
- Heat the eggs through and then incorporate the cream once that comes to a boil
- Cover and allow to simmer for a time on the lowest heat, stirring occasionally
Serve in a mug with a little sugar on top
Eierpunsch, a recipe
This was a holiday favorite all through the Holy Roman Empire, when I was living in Strasburg
- 1 bottle of white wine (keep in mind that Germany has an excellent tradition of sweet white wines like reisling)
- 8 egg yolks
- 5 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 cloves
- 1 c strongly brewed tea
- 1 lemon
- Brew the tea and let it cool
- Whisk the eggs and add in the sugar and some of the white wine until it begins to get frothy
- Add the rest of the wine, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice
- Put in a pot and allow to heat through, but remove immediately before boiling
- Fish out the cloves
Serve in a mug with a little fresh whipped cream
Milk Punch, a recipe
From the early 1700’s the British and French had forged a somewhat calm trade relationship, despite all their bickering, making sherry and brandy fairly common and accessible. This recipe serves 4.
- 4 eggs
- 8 oz. brandy
- 4 tsp cream
- Ground clove
- Whisk the ingredients together until foamy
- Spice to taste, while whisking
Serve at room temperature, or turn it into something of a cocktail in these modern times by shaking over ice.
American Nog, a recipe
Trade between the colonies was largely one way for a very long time, that is to say, it was largely a circular endeavor. The British shipped goods to the entire western world, stole slaves from Africa, brought them to the Americas, and then took products from us for sale in Britain and the rest of Europe. This system was entirely focused on the wealth and excesses of England, and cared very little about the colonists. As such, it was tedious getting any items directly from Europe, which meant there was hardly ever brandy to be had. And so, the egg beverages commenced to be cut with rum from the Caribbean.
- 1 c. brandy
- 1/2 c. dark spiced rum
- 1/2 c. sherry
- 1/2 c. whiskey
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 qt heavy cream
- 1 qt milk
- a dozen eggs
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Mix the alcohols. Separate your eggs, setting the whites aside
- Put the yolks into your mixer and beat until the the yolks are foamy. Slowly incorporate the sugar and spices.
- Add the alcohol slowly
- Add the milk and cream
- Pour this mixture into a separate bowl. With a clean bowl and whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the alcohol mixture
You may serve immediately at room temperature, or warm it through as needed and top with a little whipped cream. If storing it in the refrigerator, be sure to mix it regularly so that it doesn’t separate.
Modern Eggnog, a recipe
Modern humans are terrified of raw eggs, even when pasteurized. Now they buy rubbish in a carton and microwave it, throw in a shot of bourbon and call it finished, but to me this is a crime. So, allow me to help you out a bit. Here is a modern eggnog cocktail.
- 12 egg yolks
- 4 c. whole milk
- 2 c. heavy cream
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp fresh cinnamon
- 1/2 c. baker’s sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 c. Amaretto or Grand Marnier (I prefer Grand Marnier, as it gives a nice sweetness)
- 1 1/2 c. brandy (I use Remy Martin VSOP as it is inexpensive, but meshes well)
- Whip the egg yolks in the standing mixer, then incorporate the sugar. Then the milk and cream until the mixture is frothy and pale.
- Slowly incorporate the alcohol
Serve warm or shaken over ice. I would top the warm version with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg, and the cold version with a twist of candied lemon rind.
I very much hope this brief history of eggnog has pleased you. I hope you can track the similarities, and admire the variety. Perhaps you even have ideas of how to craft a new recipe that borrows from history.
If you do try any of them, please do send me a picture. I post all images of my recipes sent in by readers, as a general rule.