Before the first frost is on the Halloween pumpkin, my local grocery store stocks the milk case with flavored egg nogs. While I think they might be rushing the season of good cheer a bit, and the rest of the world is going Gaga over the PSL, I’m not yet ready for this rich holiday beverage just yet.
Christmas in my corner of the world
I like to mark the seasons and the holidays as they come, and give each one proper due and respect. These have become like old friends, with whom I can share my memories of the way things used to be, as well as our hopes for the future to come. Once Thanksgiving’s interminable meals of turkey variations had ceased, we couldn’t bear to face another bowl of turkey soup, turkey casserole, turkey and dumplings, or chipped turkey with gravy on toast. My daddy had an uncouth expression for this recipe, so mother only served it once and last of all.
When it finally appeared on the dinner table, it was a sign of rejoicing for us, for Christmas was just around the corner! We knew soon we’d be making fruit cake, cookies, candies, and other seasonal specialties in mother’s kitchen. The grownups usually had a party at our home, so we’d get a taste of that wonderful concoction, homemade eggnog with a bit of spirits added for the celebration. We got the cup without the spirits for the early party, but I remember tasting my parents’ cup to experience the grownup beverage.
As I’ve aged, I have lost my taste for these exceptionally rich foods. I’m more like the babies in their high chairs: I want my flavors and textures distinct and discernible. One day I may need a divided plate to keep my foods from touching, but not yet. Of course, the idea of a milky, alcoholic drink with eggs in it dates back to a medieval British drink called “posset,” writes Elizabeth Dias for Time. “By the 13th century,” she writes, “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.”
The dead of winter was good time to celebrate survival and to lubricate the social bonds to bring about continued prosperity of the community. The wealthy could afford those expensive ingredients to make eggnog in Britain, but in America it became a common drink due to the number of farms. Rum became the alcohol of choice, since rum from the Caribbean wasn’t taxed as heavily as European spirits like brandy.
George Washington’s recipe for eggnog suggests the founding father had a strong stomach. He forgot to specify how many eggs should be used in it, but cooks of the era thought a dozen or so would be good. Washington’s recipe includes the usual ingredients—sugar, milk, cream, eggs—but adds one pint of brandy, half a pint of rye, half a pint of rum and a quarter pint of sherry to the mix. Raise one to the father of the country!
FAMILY EGGNOG RECIPE
My aunt gave me a handwritten book of over one hundred recipes when I got my first apartment in art school. One was for Christmas Eggnog, which isn’t “just something to drink, but a traditional Christmas ceremony in Dixie, when friends and family gather together to enjoy Yuletide festivities.”
Her recipe served 12 and had 12 of nearly everything:
12 eggs separated
12 Tbs sugar
12 Tbs whiskey
12 Tbs Jamaican rum
1 quart whipping cream
For Auntie ‘s recipe, separate the yolks and whites. Beat the yolks till light, then add sugar slowly, and beat again till light. Add the liquor very slowly; don’t dump it in all at once! Keep beating while adding the liquor. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks in separate bowl and fold into yolk mixture. Whip the cream till it expands to double in size. Fold this into the mix of eggs and whites. Tradition serves this drink in small cups with grated nutmeg topping and a silver spoon. A thin slice of rum soaked fruit cake accompanies it on a plate. My understanding is with fruit cake, the more rum it has, the better it is, or that may be the eggnog talking.
TRADITIONAL EGGNOG RECIPE
I put a traditional egg nog recipe through my recipe program. I didn’t care for what I saw! This drink wouldn’t be on my healthy eating plan. Then I decided to adjust the recipe. I decided not to use the full sugar or whole milk, but opted for the lesser caloric bombs. I kept the full fat whipping cream, since it’s there to give body and thickness to the drink. This texture is important. Save the 2 egg whites for adding to an omelet for a meal. Don’t waste them.
1 vanilla bean (or 1 Tbs real vanilla extract)
4 cups milk 2%
2/3 cup sugar (2/3 cup or 32 tsp Splenda for diabetics)
4 whole large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Scotch whisky, bourbon, or rum (optional)
Cinnamon or allspice for topping
Servings–Makes 12 servings of about 1/2 cup each (before adding 1 oz. alcohol)
Split the vanilla bean in half by holding one end down on a cutting board and running a knife away from your hand and down the length of the bean. Open up the bean, and then use the back side of the knife to scrape out the black seeds. Place the seeds and the husk (or the 1 Tbs real vanilla) in a small saucepan along with the milk and sugar or Splenda.
Heat over medium low heat, stirring regularly to prevent burning until the surface is foamy and the milk is steaming hot.
In a large bowl, add the whole eggs and egg yolks and whisk until pale yellow and foamy. Place the bowl on a wet towel so it doesn’t slip, and then pour the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly (it may be easier to have someone help you). It’s important to keep the egg moving as you add the hot milk, otherwise it will clump.
If you’re concerned about Salmonella, measure the temperature of your mixture with a candy thermometer and if it has not hit 160 degrees F, pour it all back into the pot and cook over low heat while stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees. If you heat it anymore, the egg will curdle.
Whisk in the cream and serve warm, or chill in the fridge. I like to serve the alcohol on the side, so people can add as much or as little as they like. This respects the designated drivers, as well as those who don’t drink alcohol for personal reasons. Remember adding alcohol adds calories and carbohydrates. One ounce of alcohol per hour is the most the average person can metabolize. Consuming more than four (4) drinks on a single night is considered binge drinking, an unhealthy lifestyle activity. Consider drinking every other nog beverage without spirits to slow your imbibing down, or choose water instead.
I hope you have a safe and blessed holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanza, or Hanukkah, and may the joy of life and the promise of hope be always in your hearts and minds. Let’s all pledge to choose one better action for our health in 2019 and keep after this one thing! We can do it!
Love, Joy, and Peace,