Onward, all you merchants and radio stations. On Christmas tree lots, bakers and candy stick makers. Get on with yo’ bad self, Parks City and Lafreniere. Rejoice, oh, Canal Street, Lakeside and Jackson Square. Now, yes, now, it’s Holiday Season, when it was not before.
I know it doesn’t rhyme, but the whole Holiday thing just starts too early, what with the music and the ads and the shopping inserts and all. But we are now officially in Holiday Season. Was not in that mood in early November, but now, go on ahead with your/our celebration.
Two of the culinary hallmarks of Holiday Season, wrapped up in all the parties, the great finger food and the beverages, are items that are always appropriate yet receive very little respect. Oh, you know what I mean, don’t play like you don’t.
I’m talking about fruit cake and egg nog. No respect, I tell ya’. But they pop up every year. They are ridiculed and slandered, but then, here they come. I have to admire both of them just a little because at least they have the decency not to appear in October. They know their place, and it’s now.
Can’t help you better understand the fruit cake thing. I’m good for about two bites of a really good one. I think my parameters are that it is moist and does not get clogged in the throat.
But egg nog, well, there’s a puzzlement. I have had many and so have you. Anything memorable? The darn thing is either too sweet, too much dairy fat, too little rum or it's completely overwhelmed by the nutmeg sprinkle. Still – and you can set your watch by this – it is back and it will be featured at parties to which you have already been invited. Book it.
So why can’t we have a really good egg nog? And what’s the story about this milky, sugary concoction? Glad you asked. (Yes, I know that was a setup, but, hey, I’ve got to write a column this week, so gimme a break here. I’m trying to make a living.)
The drink itself, according to the on-line source indepthinfo.com, came to America from Europe. And here comes one of those pieces of information that seems to run against conventional wisdom: In America, we took the traditional non-alcohol egg nog base and added rum. (Did you really think the Boston Tea Party was about tea? Okay, obscure reference and one of these days we’ll do a column on Early Americana and the love of liquor.)
Anyway, it seems egg nog took its name from one of two tales. The first is that, in those colonial times, the wooden cup used for serving drinks in taverns was a “noggin.” Another story revolves around the popular class of drinks in early America: grog. This dairy drink, now with rum added in our New World, was called an “egg and grog.” That was a bit long and it soon became shortened to egg nog.
Somewhere in between is a story that combines both of those tales and the drink was an “egg and grog in a noggin,” but no one would order something with all those words. They certainly could not order a second one.
Egg nog has always been a social drink, made in the winter time because the dairy ingredients would not spoil immediately and because of its body-warming abilities (thanks to the rum). The drink was ladled from large bowls placed on the bar or table. Given the way buildings were heated at that time, with fireplaces and their resulting drying effects, a cool egg nog with rum did not last long among the participating patrons. Good thing considering all the dairy in the drink.
The Father of our Country, none other than George Washington himself, was a big egg nog guy. His version contained rum, sherry and rye whisky. Quite a man’s man ol’ George was.
There are many ways to make egg nog, and most of our fine local dairies are happy to sell you a product where the prep work is just about all done for you – except for adding the rum and doing the heavy lifting with the nutmeg sprinkles. But if you feel the need to create your own egg nog, the recipes below look like they could turn a few heads and make converts:
Egg Nog from Scratch
Prep time: 20 minutes; ready in 4 hours.
12 jumbo egg yolks
1 pound granulated sugar
1 quart whole milk
1 quart heavy cream, lightly whipped
1 liter spiced rum (or regular rum, depending on your taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat yolks in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add sugar. Beat until mixture thickens. Stir in milk and rum. Pour into a large punch bowl and chill for 3-4 hours.
Fold in whip cream before serving. Garnish with freshly ground nutmeg.
(courtesy of allrecipes.com)
Another favorite from allrecipes.com, this one by user nataliesmom, who has never steered you or Natalie wrong, goes like this:
Amazingly Good Egg Nog
Prep time: 1 hour, 20 minutes; cook time: 8 minutes; ready in 6 hours, 30 minutes
4 cups milk
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 egg yolks
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups light rum (or to taste)
4 cups light cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine milk, cloves, vanilla extract, and cinnamon in a saucepan. Heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes. Slowly bring milk mixture to a boil.
In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together until fluffy. Then whisk hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs. Pour mixture into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until thick. Do not allow mixture to boil. Strain to remove cloves; let cool for about an hour.
Stir in rum, cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and nutmeg. Refrigerate overnight before serving.
Keep in mind that egg nog has a lot of ingredients that can go wrong in a hurry. Always have your punch bowl holding the egg nog sitting in a larger bowl that contains ice and cold water to extend the life of the fragile contents. Avoid placing your egg nog near a hot fireplace or under a heating vent.
Okay, so these two recipes are a bit more work than just heading for the grocer’s dairy aisle then making a look-and-grab run on the liquor aisle. But maybe it’s not that you don’t like egg nog, it might be that you’ve never had a good one.