Love it or hate it, eggnog has been at the Christmas table for hundreds of years now, making its annual reappearance in grocery store coolers between Halloween and the New Year.
Centuries ago, however, eggnog was a drink only for the wealthy in times of celebration. While we don’t know exactly where eggnog originated, historians believe it to have been from a drink called “posset” dating back to medieval Britain. The ingredients (eggs, sugar, milk, and alcohol) were expensive for the time, so the drink was considered quite exclusive.
Today’s eggnog is made up of a mixture of milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and booze (bourbon in the Southern US, though rum or brandy are equally popular elsewhere.) Variations using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, along with vanilla extract, help make it a festive drink at the holidays.
America’s first president was said to love serving his own eggnog recipe at Christmas time. In fact, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has shared George Washington’s original recipe for the cocktail, written down by the Father of Our Country himself some time after 1789:
“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, pint rye whiskey, pint Jamaica rum, pint sherry — mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”
Though Washington did not record the exact number of eggs, it’s been estimated to use around a dozen.
As for his liquor of choice, Washington and his family lived at Mt. Vernon for 45 years, where even today rye whiskey is distilled and sold on the estate using the president’s recipe. Washington truly enjoyed the process of making his own liquors, and used to regale party guests with the benefits of drinking spirits in moderation–and with a recipe like his, moderation was said to have been needed!
In 1783, when Annapolis was the Temporary Capital of the US, George and Martha Washington lived there, fresh off the new nation’s military victories. Having just returned victorious, Washington resigned his commission leading the Continental Army on Dec 23rd, and the couple threw a holiday party at the State House where the eggnog was permanently dubbed “infamous.”
If you wish to try his recipe for your own office Christmas party, don’t be worried about the raw eggs–alcohol naturally cooks out the bacteria. Do, however, practice Washington’s mixed message of moderation, while remembering also to “taste frequently”.