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Usher in the holiday season with eggnog

Whipping up some eggnog requires some work, but the frothy product is way worth the effort. (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Thick, creamy eggnog is the official drink that welcomes our winter holidays.

It appears in stores shortly before Thanksgiving, and disappears right after New Year’s.

The association with Christmas is relatively recent –probably dating to the 18th Century. The beverage originated as a way of preserving eggs and milk by the addition of alcohol before refrigeration. Such dairy punches were popular among the upper classes in England during the Renaissance. By the 17th Century, drinks made with eggs, cream and ale were sweetened, spiced and served warm rather than chilled. These were called possets and were often served to those suffering from winter ailments like colds or flu, and as a sleep aid.

No one knows where the term “eggnog” originated. There are several theories. One centers on small, wooden mugs called noggins used in English taverns. Another claims that nog was British slang for a strong ale. Still another puts the name origin in America, saying that grog, a slang term for rum, gave the descriptive name of “egg-and-grog,” which in time became eggnog.

We do know that eggnog was quite popular in colonial America. Small dairy farms were common in New England, and the triangular trade of the 17th and 18th centuries brought in cheap Caribbean rum. By 1607, Captain John Smith wrote that Jamestown settlers made eggnog. George Washington made eggnog on cold nights at Mt. Vernon using rum, brandy, whiskey and sherry to spike the sweet eggy drink. In the 1800s, eggnog became a popular social drink made in large quantities for holiday parties. In early 19th Century Baltimore, New Year partiers went from house to house, imbibing a healthy portion of eggnog at each friend’s home.

Today, the rich, creamy beverage is synonymous with holiday indulgence. Consumption of eggnog peaks on Christmas Eve, so Dec. 24 has been designated National Eggnog Day. Coffee shops feature holiday eggnog lattes. Supermarket dairy sections offer commercial, non-alcoholic, ultra-pasteurized eggnog made with eggs, milk and sugar from mid-November through New Year’s. There are even low-fat versions and “egg” nog where eggs have been replaced with soy. Organic or sustainable varieties are harder to find, but are produced by some small organic dairies.

Recently, Americans have shunned raw eggs because of the risk of salmonella contamination. And rich, creamy stuff is spurned because it’s bad for the waistline and the heart. But true eggnog aficionados will tell you that the eggless or pasteurized commercial versions are a very poor imitation of the real thing — eggnog made with fresh raw eggs and cream. The holidays, after all, are a time to indulge, not cut back.

Basically, eggnog is liquid custard. Eggs are beaten with cream, sugar, and spices (traditionally nutmeg; sometimes vanilla, cinnamon and cloves). The spiked variety is mixed with alcohol: rum, spiced ale or wine.

To make it, you want the freshest, best quality eggs you can find. These come from free-range, organic hens — they taste better and have rich yellow yolks and creamy whites. Pasteurized eggs lack flavor, and cooking makes eggnog too thick. You have to beat the yolks and whites separately, because each serves a different purpose. Yolks give eggnog its thick, creamy texture. Whites make it frothy; they should be whipped and added just before serving.

Milk and cream provide the body of the eggnog. Too much milk will make it watery; too much cream will make it syrupy. A 3-to-1 ratio of whole milk to heavy cream is recommended.

A little freshly grated nutmeg swirled in at the end is traditional. Some like to add cinnamon and cloves, but you want the taste of the eggs and cream to predominate, so don’t be overbearing.

Alcohol is traditional, but is not required. Rum, ale, brandy or bourbon are most common. Madeira or sherry can cut the alcohol content while maintaining the flavor. For non-alcoholic eggnog, use more nutmeg and use brown sugar or molasses for a malted caramel flavor. You can also add rum and vanilla extracts.

Traditional

Eggnog

Ingredients:

6 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

3 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup rum (optional) or 1 teaspoon rum flavoring

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

Separate the eggs into 2 bowls. Cover egg whites and refrigerate until ready to use.

In large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and lemon colored. Stir in milk and rum, if using.

Allow to cool in the fridge. 30 minutes before serving, whip the cream. Beat egg whites with confectioners’ sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold beaten eggs, whipped cream and nutmeg into the egg yolk mixture. Garnish with additional nutmeg and whipped cream.

Easy Eggnog

Latte

Ingredients:

1/3 cup milk

2/3 cup eggnog

1 ounce brewed espresso or very strong coffee

sugar or sweetener to taste

dash nutmeg

Directions:

Heat milk and eggnog (on stove or microwave) but do not boil. Add coffee to mug; add nutmeg; then hot mixture. Enjoy.

Eggnog Walnut

Custard Pie

Ingredients:

1 pastry crust

1 cup shelled walnut halves

4 eggs

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup rum

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Whipped cream, for garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 9-inch pie plate with prepared crust. Arrange nuts evenly on top of crust.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar until frothy. Add maple syrup, milk, rum, and salt. Beat at medium speed until combined. Pour into prepared crust and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Place pie plate in a pan or rimmed baking sheet; add 1/2 inch of water to the pan. Bake about 55 minutes, or until set.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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