Heads, Hearts and
Sharing stories of good whiskey, good friends, and good memories
Probably the first taste of alcohol I ever tasted was whiskey. I’m not sure because I really don’t remember. I was only a kid and the drink was Egg Nog. In fact, I can’t remember a Christmas at my Grandfather’s without the huge punchbowl full of sweet fluffed white peaks floating on the pale yellow concoction. The meringue topping was completely benign of alcohol, so I could scoop it from the top of the bowl and enjoy the sweet nutmeg flavor, and no one seemed to mind. But in the process, I would inevitably scoop up some of the liquid. As I said, I don’t remember the first time I did this, only that I can’t remember not doing it; scooping up some sweet whiskey – rum creaminess, hidden under a scoop of the foamy white topping to stave off any adult intervention.
I don’t think I ever got much more than a shot glass full throughout the evening, but the hook was set; I was to be a whiskey man.
Years later, when I was in my twenties, I decided to take on the family Egg Nog recipe. My Grandfather had passed, and so my Grandmother, Mimi, hand wrote it for me. She noted that it called for a pint of whiskey…but then she held out her hand as if she was holding an invisible whiskey bottle and tilted it several times as if to pour, and in so, silently passed on the unwritten and unspoken step to the formula; add more whiskey!
I was in my thirties before I started to learn about whiskey. Along with my education on whiskey came a history lesson. I learned that before prohibition, the whiskey in Maryland was rye. Knowing that, and that my egg nog recipe was handed down through my family (my mother’s side), and that my family roots go back to before the American Revolution, and that they lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, it all started to make more sense of the recipe.
Before the Revolution, Egg Nog was usually made with rum; the best rum was from Jamaica. There were other choices for rum. There was rum from other Caribbean islands, and becoming more prevalent was rum made of imported molasses and distilled in the American Colonies. But all of that was trash compared to the rum from Jamaica, and anyone with money made their Egg Nog with Jamaican rum. My family owned property and had money, and no doubt made their nog with Jamaican rum.
So, why then would the recipe in my hand call for one-third of the liquid to be whiskey and only one tiny ounce of rum to be added, specifically Jamaican rum? In my culinary historical exploration, I found that an imported rum embargo was established by the British Naval blockade from the beginning of the war. Locally made rum soon disappeared, too, when the molasses became scarce. So, how was a well-to-do family to make the traditional Christmas Egg Nog without Jamaican rum? Whiskey, that’s how. They would substitute whiskey for rum. But if there was no rum in the mix, technically it wasn’t a nog. The word nog deriving from grog, British Naval slang for any drink being of or containing rum. So if there was even one ounce of rum in the punch bowl, it could be called, in good conscience, Egg Nog.
So that explains the one ounce of rum, but why so emphatic with the origin of the rum and not so much as a mention of the type of the whiskey, which at this point makes up a third of the batch? Well, as mentioned before, with rum, there were choices. With whiskey, there were none. Back when rum became in short supply, there was no Bourbon or Canadian or Tennessee Whiskey. There was only whiskey, and in America, whiskey was rye!
Historically, there are many ideas of the origin of the drink and even more about the origin of the name. Depending on what you read, the drink is believed to derive from the Whisky Flip, or the Syllabub, or German Biersuppe. Some think that Egg Nog and all of the rest of these drinks evolved from the 14th-century drink Posset.
And the arguments for the name include the fact that an old name for a small wooden cup from which it was drunk was noggin or nog, which also came to be a slang word for strong ale and which name was also used by the Navy for rum or anything with rum in it.
History is great and all, but who really cares about all that? What we do know is that when the variations of all of these recipes and influences came to the American Colonies sometime in the 18th century there was a collision of an abundance of cows, chickens, rum, occasional cold weather, and people that like to drink booze. That’s all it took, and it was called Egg Nog, (not Eggnog).
How to make it:
Above you can see the original recipe as written by my Grandmother, Mimi. I have doubled the recipe below, as that is what you will want to make to fill a punch bowl and expanded the directions for those not so experienced in the kitchen. I also converted the measurement to meet modern packaging. But trust me, it’s the same recipe. If you don’t believe me, you can follow Mimi’s hand written note.
One thing about Egg Nog, the liquid part with the yolks must be made at least the day prior to when you want to serve it. Believe me, it’s noticeably better after spending at least one night, maybe more, in the fridge. George Washington’s recipe says to let it stand in a cool place for several days. I think the fridge overnight is at least the minimum. If you’re concerned with the thought of Salmonella in your egg nog read what I wrote at the bottom.
So, you’ll want to mix the liquid the day before, but the egg whites must be whipped up the day you serve it.
What you need:
4 pints Half and Half (it’s half cream and half milk, premixed for your Egg Nog convenience)
2 pints Rye whiskey
2 oz. Jamaican Rum
1 ½ cup cane sugar
Ground Nutmeg 1 tsp.
Arrowroot (optional, not part of the original recipe, but it makes the whites stay stiff longer)
Step 1. Separate the yolks and the whites of the eggs. Put the whites in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. (Check out this video for the easiest way in the world to separate eggs http://www.flixxy.com/how-to-separate-eggs-using-a-plastic-bottle.htm)
Step 2. In a large mixing bowl (at least 5 qt), mix the yolks, Half and Half, whiskey, rum, and 1 cup of sugar. Using your mixer, blend these ingredients for at least 5 minutes or more.
Step 3. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a glass bowl or clean jugs. This will remove any of the yolk that is still in a yolky semi-solid state, an optional step that the “squeamish of drinking raw egg folks” will appreciate. Cover or seal with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.
Step 4. (The next day) I usually do this step at my house just before I get ready to leave for the party. Once I get to the party, I scoop out the whites, and they're good to go for the rest of the party or for as long as the Egg Nog lasts.
In a spotless mixing bowl with very clean beaters, begin mixing the whites. In a few minutes, they will start to turn opaque and thicken. Gradually speed up the mixer speed. Add 1 small pinch of Arrow Root powder. Add in ½ cup of sugar. Continue to increase the mixer speed as fast as it will let you without the whites being splashed out of the bowl. Pretty soon, you should be running at full speed.
Transfer the egg white meringue to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap to travel to the party. If you’re having the festivities at your house and you’re ready to put it in the punch bowl, then just leave it in the mixing bowl.
Once you’re ready to serve it, pour the liquid mix into the punch bowl. Then scoop the whites in large spoonfuls onto the top of the drink, completely covering the top of the liquid with golf ball to tennis ball-sized scoops of the stiff meringue.
Dust the ground nutmeg all over the top of the Egg Nog. Serve the first ceremonial glass to the Patriarch or Matriarch of the family that is present. Enjoy.
Egg Nog, is it safe?
If you are among the group that is only mildly curious about the risk of Salmonella (SE) in your Egg Nog and are going to drink it regardless of what I or anybody else says about the risk, I say “Bravo, drink on!” For you, I will summarize the rest of the evidence that I have read.
First, let’s note that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of an egg contaminated with SE is 1 in 20,000. So, the chance of introducing SE into the Egg Nog by a contaminated egg is pretty low.
Furthermore, it’s proven that SE cannot grow in temperatures below 40F and that it also cannot grow in the presence of alcohol (EtOH). So, if the SE is not there in the Egg Nog already, it won’t just “spring up” in the fridge. Moreover, the longer SE is in the Egg Nog and exposed to the alcohol, the less SE there will be until it is sterile of SE in about 4 to 5 days. (The whipped egg whites don’t mix with the alcohol, so you can omit that if you wish.)
So, it’s safer to make your egg nog ahead of time.
Now, if you are one of those people that will state that there is still “some” risk of Salmonella in anything that contains raw egg, to that I say, have you ever licked the beater after someone mixed up a cake or a batch of cookies? There is a greater risk of SE poisoning from raw cookie dough than Egg Nog since there is no sterilizing benefit of the alcohol present in the cake batter or cookie dough. Oh, you don’t eat raw cookie dough, you say smugly? Well, how about French toast, which is rarely cooked enough to harden the egg that is soaked into the inside of the bread, and I could go on. But if you still don’t want to “risk it” and want to ruin it for the rest of the family at the Christmas party, see the CDC link at the bottom, point #4, to get all the ammo you need.
And one final note. If drinking homemade Egg Nog was such a risk, we would see a rise in Salmonella-related illnesses during the holidays, and according to the CDC there is no such evidence. In fact, there are more reported Salmonella cases in the summer months than around the holidays.
So, buy good fresh eggs. Use good kitchen safety practices. Let the nog sit in the fridge at least overnight or longer and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. (And if you do get sick, please blame it on the cookie dough.)
Here is a video from NPR about a scientific experiment where the researchers tested store-bought Eggnog, homemade Egg Nog, and also added Salmonella into both to see what happens:
This link further explains the results from the experiment conducted by a Rockefeller University Professor on Egg Nog:
In the interest of total disclosure, here is what the CDC says about egg/Salmonella safety: