The Origins of Eggnog

Miles/December 02, 2012

I honestly can’t remember the last time I had eggnog. It’s most certainly been more than 10 years, and in no way am I ready to break that streak. But recently around the offices here, we’ve been asking ourselves where in the world this stuff came from and why is it so rooted into holiday traditions? With a little research and culinary thought, we discovered some roots that go pretty far back and decided to give it another try.

If you look back, past the shadows of your Grandmother’s fridge, you’ll end up in medieval England where a hot drink known as posset was popular amongst kings and queens. Posset (also spelled poshote or poshotte) was a hot drink of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced. It was only until later where variations of the beverage began to see eggs added to the mix, giving you the birth of modern day eggnog.

As the medieval times eventually began to fade out, milk was hard to get your hands on unless you were royalty or owned your own cattle. “You have to remember, the average Londoner rarely saw a glass of milk,” says author/historian James Humes (July 1997, “To Humes It May Concern”). “There was no refrigeration, and the farms belonged to the big estates. Those who could get milk and eggs to make eggnog mixed it with brandy or Madeira or even sherry.

But it was in America where eggnog became popular, particularly the Northeast, where farms and dairy were plentiful, as was the accessibility to rum. Because of the Triangle Trade from the Caribbean, rum was nearly as easy to get as fresh water. Rum wasn’t heavily taxed like Brandy and other expensive European spirits, thus easily found it’s way into the mixture.

Your standard recipe for eggnog consists of eggs beaten with sugar, milk or cream, and some kind of spirit (optional in some parts of world). This recipe has traveled well and quickly adapted to local palates wherever it is made. If you head to the American South, you’ll see bourbon has replaced the ale, even though nomenclature roots the term nog with the British term for hard ale.

If you head further down south, all the way to Puerto Rico, the drink there is made with fresh coconut milk, and you guessed it, rum. In Mexico the drink, known as “rompope” was created in the convent of Santa Clara, and requires a heaping hit of Mexican cinnamon and rum. Head even further south to Peru, and your eggnog will be served with the local Peruvian favorite, Pisco.

But why eggnog is so closely related to the holidays is still unknown. Either way, we won’t let that stop us from sharing some of our favorite eggnog recipes that we’ve rounded up.

From Serious Eats, we found a Maple Bourbon Eggnog that we can’t wait to try. You will need the following:

  • 8 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups bourbon
  • 16 strips crisply cooked bacon
Directions: Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and, watching carefully, beat until they are about the consistency of shaving cream, about 90 seconds. Reduce speed to medium. With mixer running, add half of maple syrup and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Transfer whites to a large bowl. Do not wash bowl.
Add egg yolks and remaining syrup to now-empty stand mixer bowl and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow and ribbony, shutting off machine and scraping down sides with a rubber spatula as necessary, about 2 minutes total. Add milk, cream, and alcohol and mix on low speed to combine.
Using a rubber spatula or handheld whisk, fold the whipped whites into the egg yolk/milk mixture until completely incorporated. Serve by ladling into goblets and garnishing with a bacon strip.
Over at Imbibe, we found  a recipe from Jonathan Pogash of World Bar, New York City. For this, you will need:
  • 10 large, fresh grade AA eggs, separated
  • 1 cup of superfine sugar
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups of Rum
  • 6 tsp. of pure almond extract
  • 6 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • garnish with grated nutmeg and cinnamon
Separate eggs into two bowls. Beat yolks until stiff, and beat whites with half the sugar until peaks form. Slowly fold whites and yolks together. Separately, beat cream with almond extract, vanilla and remaining sugar in a bowl until stiff. Slowly fold in cream with egg mixture. Add rum and stir gently. Refrigerate overnight, or serve immediately. Serves 18–20.
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