More Than Just a Holiday Beverage
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Like fruitcake, there’s no middle ground when it comes to voicing one’s opinion about the taste of eggnog. Some folks relish the creamy concoction with great anticipation during the holidays, while others would rather pour it into the nearest poinsettia plant.
Then there’s the debate about store-bought products vs. Nana’s delicious homemade recipe. If it’s not the real McCoy, many eggnog connoisseurs would rather choose a hot mulled wine, refusing to even consider sipping something from a common container found in the dairy aisle. What about adding alcoholic spirits to the mix? Some are adamant, saying absolutely not, especially if children are present, while others discuss the merits of their favorite libation — everything from brandy to rum.
Start a conversation about eggnog, and see what happens. One could untangle a box of Christmas lights and decorate a six-foot pine tree from top to bottom while people continue nattering on about the beverage with great emotion. There’s just something about a glass of eggnog that sparks a lively exchange of ideas.
A Bit of History
Traditional eggnog is a velvety mixture of milk, sugar, egg yolks, whipped egg whites, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and aromatic spices — cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It’s a classic holiday beverage that’s enjoyed from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — usually served chilled in a glass cup or mug with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
The word “nog” was first used in North America in the late 1600s, stemming from noggin, a term used in the Middle Ages to describe a small, carved wooden mug. Other names include egg-and-grog, milk punch, and spiced egg milk. A nog or nug (strong drink) was also a variety of ale brewed in East Anglia — an area on the east coast of England that includes the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire.
Long before eggs and nog were used in language, the word was called posset (historically spelled poshote, poshotte, or possenet), a hot drink of sweetened and spiced milk curdled with sack, a wine similar to sherry. British monks during the 13th century are believed to be the first individuals to combine such ingredients. They liked their strong and spicy brew served with figs, believing it was a cure for congestion, fever, flu, and as a sleep-aid.
Posset in no way resembled the beverage we know today. It actually served two purposes — a warm, mulled, eggy milk drink and a gooey dessert combined together in a two-handled ceramic or metal vessel called a posset pot. The dessert portion was a thick layer of gruel, made of sweetened porridge, bread, fruit, and almond paste, floating above the liquid. The posset pot was usually passed from one person to the next, where mugs were filled from the spout, and spoonfuls of the mush scooped out from the center opening. Passing the posset pot was a popular custom during the Middle Ages at weddings — toasting the bride and groom with good luck and prosperity. Often, the happy couple received the posset pot after the reception as a housewarming gift.
The practice of enjoying a bit of brew and dessert continued into the 17th century — both with royalty and the average person stopping by the pub. Evidently, Shakespeare was a fan. He mentioned possets in a handful of his plays, including Hamlet, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. And, it was Lady Macbeth who used a jug of posset to poison the guards outside Duncan’s quarters so her husband could murder the king and take the Scottish throne for himself.
In America, the combination of milk and eggs, without the added gruel, became a popular drink during the 1700s, especially at gatherings at Christmastime. George Washington was a big fan, creating his own recipe laced with a generous amount of brandy, rye whiskey, dark Jamaican rum, and a bit of cream sherry. He and Martha’s guests were often warned about the potency of the holiday punch bowl.
Today, posset is a delicate, chilled dessert, similar to a luxuriously mousse or pudding. It’s light and refreshing, made with just three ingredients: cream, sugar, and lemon or other citrus juice.
Baking with Eggnog
There’s more to this velvety beverage served in a crystal cup; eggnog is a great substitute for milk and buttermilk, adding an extra bit of sweetness and spice to a recipe. It’s a tasty addition to cookies, cakes, pies, bread pudding, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and quick breads. Why not start the morning with a heaping platter of pancakes made with eggnog, or serve up some French toast and waffles, sprinkled with powdered sugar and a dash of nutmeg?
It’s not just for breakfast or dessert; a spoonful can perk up a cup of coffee or some chai tea for a relaxing treat. It’s also easy to whip up a delicious eggnog latte. Just combine it with one’s favorite brewed coffee and nutmeg — blending until frothy in an electric mixer. Top it with whipped cream for a festive drink.
Savory dishes like this Eggnog Sweet Potato Casserole can add a new twist to autumn and holiday meals. Made with mashed sweet potatoes, it can be prepared the day before; just refrigerate overnight, and let it stand at room temperature before popping into the oven.
Eggnog Sweet Potato Casserole
- Five or six large sweet potatoes
- 2/3 cup eggnog — store-bought or homemade
- 1 egg
- ½ cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ oatmeal — quick-cooking oats
- ¼ cup brown sugar — packed
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts — optional
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Scrub sweet potatoes and pierce with a fork.
- Bake one hour until tender in the oven at 350 degrees F or cook in microwave.
- Let cool. Peel and mash. Yield: approximately six cups.
- Stir together the mashed sweet potatoes and other ingredients.
- Place in a greased baking dish.
- Mix ingredients together.
- Sprinkle over mashed sweet potatoes.
Bake uncovered 35 minutes at 350 degrees F until the topping is lightly browned.
As most cooks know, it’s fun experimenting with something new at the dinner table or breakfast brunch. Eggnog can liven things up, especially for those individuals who shy away from a chilled cup of the beverage. They just might become an aficionado when served a nice slice of pumpkin pie this holiday season. It’s up to the host to divulge what makes that dessert so delicious!
For Backyard Poultry editor Marissa Ames’ timeless eggnog recipe, click HERE!
Originally published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.