Egg Nog History
is Egg Nog?
Egg nog literally means eggs inside a small cup. It is used as a toast to ones
health. Nog is an old English dialect word (from East Anglia) of obscure
origins that was used to describe a kind of strong beer (hence noggin). It is
first recorded in the seventeenth century. Egg nog, however, is first mentioned
in the early nineteenth century but seems to have been popular on both sides of
the Atlantic at that time. An alternative British name was egg flip.
History of Egg Nog
From Buckingham Palace to the White House to New England homes everywhere,
toasting the holidays with egg nog is a custom rich in tradition. Historically,
egg nog is first mentioned in the early part of the seventeenth century as a
beverage used to toast one's health.
It all began in England, where egg nog was the trademark drink of the upper
class. "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"),
former speech writer and adviser to four presidents. "There was no
refrigeration, and the farms belonged to the big estates. Those who could get
milk and eggs to make egg nog mixed it with brandy or Madeira or even sherry."
But it became most popular in America, where farms and dairy products were
plentiful, as was rum. Rum came to American shores via the
Triangular Trade from the Caribbean; thus it was far more affordable than the
heavily taxed brandy or other European spirits that it replaced at our
forefather's holiday revels."
An English creation, it descended from a hot British drink called posset, which
consists of eggs, milk, and ale or wine. The recipe for egg nog (eggs beaten
with sugar, milk or cream, and some kind of spirit) has traveled well, adapting
to local tastes wherever it has landed. In the American South, bourbon replaced
ale (though nog, the British slang for strong ale, stuck). Rich, strong egg nog
— the richer and stronger, the better — is no stranger to holiday celebrations
in New Orleans, and at this time of year the drink takes its place alongside
syllabubs on the traditional southern table. (Syllabub is a less potent mixture
than egg nog but just as rich. Made with milk, sugar and wine, it straddles the
line between drink and liquid dessert.)
Egg nog goes by the name
coquito in Puerto Rico, where, not surprisingly, rum is the liquor of
choice (as it is these days for many egg nog lovers in the U.S.). There the
drink has the added appeal of being made with fresh coconut juice or coconut
milk. Mexican egg nog, known as rompope, was created in the convent of Santa
Clara in the state of Puebla. The basic recipe is augmented with a heavy dose
of Mexican cinnamon and rum or grain alcohol, and the resulting drink is sipped
as a liqueur. In Peru, holidays are celebrated with a biblia con pisco, an egg
nog made with the Peruvian pomace brandy called pisco.
The Germans make a egg nog or rather egg soup with beer (Biersuppe). Here in
Iceland, we do have a soup here that resembles egg nog somewhat but there's no
alcohol in it. It is served hot as a dessert. Other than that, we have nothing
that resembles egg nog and no egg nog traditions.
Many believe that the egg nog tradition was brought to America from Europe.
This is partially true. Egg nog is related to various milk and wine punches
that had been concocted long ago in the "Old World". However, in America a new
twist was put on the theme. Rum was used in the place of wine. In Colonial
America, rum was commonly called "grog", so the name egg nog is likely derived
from the very descriptive term for this drink, "egg-and-grog", which corrupted
to egg'n'grog and soon to egg nog. At least this is one version...
Other experts believe that the "nog" of egg nog comes from the word "noggin". A
noggin was a small, wooden, carved mug. It was used to serve drinks at table in
taverns (while drinks beside the fire were served in tankards). It is thought
that egg nog started out as a mixture of Spanish "Sherry" and milk. The English
called this concoction "Dry sack posset". It is very easy to see how an egg
drink in a noggin could become egg nog.
The true story might be a mixture of the two and egg nog was originally called
"egg and grog in a noggin". This was a term that required shortening if ever
there was one.
With its European roots and ingredients availability, egg nog soon became a
popular wintertime drink throughout Colonial America. It had much to recomend
it; it was rich, spicy, and alcoholic.
In the 1820's Pierce Egan, a period author, wrote a book called "Life of
London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne and His Elegant Friend Corinthina
Tom". To publicize his work Mr. Egan made up a variation of egg nog 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).
Egg nog, in the 1800s was nearly always made in large quantities and nearly
always used as a social drink. It was commonly served at holiday parties and it
was noted by an English visitor in 1866, "Christmas is not properly observed
unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and
each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging...It is made cold and is drunk
cold and is to be commended."
Of course, Christmas was not the only day upon which egg nog was popular. In
Baltimore it was a tradition for young men to call upon all of their friends on
New years day. At each of many homes the strapping fellows were offered a cup
of egg nog, and so as they went they became more and more inebriated. It was
quite a feat to actually finish one's rounds.
Our first President, George Washington, was quite a fan of egg nog and devised
his own recipe that included rye whiskey, rum and sherry. It was reputed to be
a stiff drink that only the most courageous were willing to try.
Egg nog is still a popular drink during the holidays, and its social character
remains. It is hard to imagine a Christmas without a cup of the "nog" to spice
up the atmosphere and lend merriment and joy to the procedings. When you try
out some of the recipes on this site, remember that, like many other of our
grand traditions, there is history and life behind that little frothy brew.
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