Eggnog is one of a few nostalgic, must have holiday treats from my childhood. As a kid, I remember getting cartons of eggnog from the supermarket at Thanksgiving and Christmas and loving it. And when I got older, spiking it with rum or brandy.
Since I can’t buy eggnog in the UK, I made some for our 2nd annual Dessert Party a couple of weeks ago. The homemade version is so much better than store bought and well worth the effort.
- 6 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
- Additional grated nutmeg for garnish
Combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3- or 4-quart pan, whisking until well-combined. Continue whisking while pouring milk in a slow, steady stream until completely incorporated. Turn on burner to lowest possible heat setting. Place pan on burner and stir mixture continuously until an instant-read thermometer reaches 160° F and the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Be patient. This should take about 45 to 60 minutes.
Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove any accidental small cooked bits of egg. Add vanilla extract and nutmeg, stirring to combine. Pour into a glass pitcher, decanter, or container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate this egg custard mixture to chill at least 4 hours or up to 3 days before finishing.
Just before serving, stir in the whipped cream and sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg.
Eggnog may have simply developed from posset, a medieval European beverage made with hot milk. The “nog” part of its name may stem from the word “noggin”, a Middle English term used to describe a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol.
The ingredients for the drink were expensive in England, so there it was popular mainly among the aristocracy. Those who could get milk and eggs to make eggnog mixed it with brandy or Madeira or even sherry. The drink crossed the Atlantic to the English colonies during the 18th century. Since brandy and wine were heavily taxed, rum from the Triangular Trade with the Caribbean was a cost-effective substitute.
The inexpensive liquor, coupled with plentiful farm and dairy products, helped the drink become very popular in America. When the supply of rum to the newly-founded United States was reduced as a consequence of the American Revolutionary War, Americans turned to domestic whiskey, and eventually bourbon in particular, as a substitute. Traditionally, eggnog was usually served warm and laced with spirits. Since the 1960s, eggnog has often been served cold and without spirits, both of which are significant departures from its historical origins.
I also remembered a drink called Tom and Jerry, a traditional Christmastime cocktail in the United States and did a bit of research. In the 1820’s Pierce Egan, a period author, wrote a book called “Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis“. This book was enormously popular to young men who aspired to a dashing life and detailed drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting and other branches of debauchery, either practised or contemplated by the friends.
To publicize his work Mr. Egan made up a variation of eggnog he called “Tom and Jerry”. It added 1/2 oz of brandy to the basic recipe (fortifying it considerably and adding further to its popularity).
Life in London was wonderfully illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank.
To make a Tom and Jerry cocktail, I simply warmed up a cup of eggnog and added a ½ jigger each of rum and brandy. Egan’s book gave us not only the expression ‘Tom and Jerryism’ for the loutish behaviour the friends liked to engage in, but also provided William Hanna and Joseph Barbera with the names for their more famous cat-and-mouse pair.
So, I’ll leave you now with inspiration for a new holiday tipple and ‘The Night Before Christmas’ . . . . .
. . . . . . and a reminder not to imbibe too much eggnog!