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Egg Nog History





 

What 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.

The 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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