by Dale DeGroff
In 1915 my Great Uncle Angelo, at the age of 12 left his home in Calabria to come to America with his siblings. With their parents, they settled in Rhode Island and became the first Italian graduates of the Rhode Island School of Agriculture (later the University of Rhode Island). But as a kid visiting Uncle Angelo during the holidays, all I cared about was his skill with eggs, sugar, nutmeg, milk and cream.
With the addition of Jamaican rum and fine old whiskey for adults, this ethereal mixture was celebrated by the Four Roses whiskey distillers appearing on the Christmas package after Angelo won the egg nog recipe contest.
I set out this year to figure out where my great uncle came up with this recipe. The journey led me to England in the 18th century and even earlier when a concoction called Egg Flip—a blend of strong ale boiled and mixed with sugar, whipped egg yolks, cream and spices—was popular. The drink was poured back and forth until creamy and served piping hot. These beverages were a luxury afforded the very wealthy who could afford the expensive spices, cream and eggs.
In his 1862 volume How to Mix Drinks Jerry Thomas proclaims, "Egg nog is a beverage of American origin, but it has a popularity that is cosmopolitan." At the end of his recipe for egg nog, Thomas also makes an interesting observation, "Every well stocked bar has a tin egg nog ‘shaker,’ which is a great aid in mixing this beverage."
When the egg drink crossed the ocean, several adaptations made it a truly American libation. Thanks to inexpensive dairy and eggs, it was no longer an exclusive treat afforded only the wealthy. Ironically, the ingredient that gave the drink its name disappeared from the recipes in the United States; the strong ale known as nog. Jamaican rum is called for in Jerry Thomas’s recipe although he included the option of brandy. And the American version is served chilled.
The technique that appears in the most popular of the egg nog recipes is this separation of the egg yolks from the whites. All the best recipes call for the yolks to be beaten with sugar and nutmeg to a fine consistency almost white in color. To this the spirits are added and finally just at the moment of service the egg whites whipped so hard they sit like clouds atop the nog when they are folded in.
Egg Nog Drink Recipes
UNCLE ANGELO’S EGGNOG
(serves 6-8 people)
6 eggs (separated)
1 quart milk
1 pint cream
1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup sugar
6 oz. bourbon
3 oz. Myers’s Dark Jamaican rum
Beat egg yolks well until they turn light in color, adding half a cup of sugar and the nutmeg as you beat. Add milk, cream and liquor to finished yolks, stir. Then beat egg whites with the remaining sugar until they peak. Fold whites into mixture. Grate fresh nutmeg over drink.
Adapted from Practical Housewife, 1860
1/2 pint ale
1 pint of cream
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 table spoons sugar
1/4 nutmeg grated
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar and nutmeg and whip the whites separately. Add the ale and the egg whites to the mixture stirring well to mix. Place over a slow fire and stir well until thick. Do not boil. Remove from fire and serve piping hot.
GENERAL HARRISON’S EGG NOG
Adapted from How to Mix Drinks, 1862
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 fresh egg
4 ounces fresh cider
1 1/2 oz. bourbon (my addition)
Assemble the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake very well with ice to completely emulsify the egg. Strain over into a large goblet.
NOTE: Eggs are safe for beverage use if they are handled properly, especially when mixed with 80 proof spirits or acid from citrus fruit as is the case in most beverage applications. Remember to wash your hands after handling eggshells before handling other ingredients and refrigerate egg products at all times.
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