This article is adapted from the December 18, 2021, edition of Gastro Obscura’s Favorite Things newsletter. You can sign up here.
Every December, I half-heartedly try eggnog. It’s never planned. I’m usually at a holiday party and see the creamy mixture sloshing in a punch bowl and think, “What the hell. ’Tis the season.” It’s always a disappointment.
Like me, many people dismiss ’nog as an afterthought, either sampling it from bland, premixed cartons or trotting out the same blasé recipe every year.
This holiday season, I’ve decided to give ’nog another chance. I scoured mixology tomes across history and consulted the rest of the Gastro Obscura staff to find the most interesting eggnog recipes out there.
If you think eggnog is tame, consider this: In 1826, cadets at West Point—including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee—erupted into a riot after downing too much contraband ’nog. In the melee, cadets destroyed furniture, smashed windows, took up arms, and even shot at a commanding officer (they missed, possibly due to their level of inebriation). In the end, 19 students were expelled.
As I learned, history is full of accounts of eggnog shenanigans, often with riotous recipes to match. Here are a few of the world’s most interesting eggnogs and how to make them at home.
1) Prison ’Nog With Mezcal
In April 1843, members of the Army of the Texas Republic found themselves facing two problems.
The first: They were imprisoned by Mexican General Santa Anna, who’d captured them during a border raid. The second? The anniversary of their victory at the Battle of San Jacinto was coming up, and the prison atmosphere wasn’t exactly set for any kind of celebration.
To pep things up, the men bribed their guards to smuggle in mezcal, sugar, eggs, and donkey’s milk. After stealing some kitchen tools, the soldiers mixed up their creamy, potent concoction. Their leader, General Thomas Green, declared the concoction a success. He later described it as “such egg-nog as never was seen or drank under the nineteenth degree of northern latitude.”
You can find the story and recipe—given a little extra flavor with some grated Mexican chocolate—in David Wondrich’s excellent book on cocktail history, Imbibe.
2) The Egg-Less Ancestor to Eggnog
Before there was eggnog, there was posset, a British cocktail consisting of curdled milk, alcohol, and sugar. Consumed for both pleasure and health, posset was even prescribed to King Charles I for a cold in 1620.
British literature and domestic texts are filled with references to the many varieties of posset. Shakespeare gave nods to the drink in both Hamlet and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
And yet, while food historians consider posset the precursor to the eggnog we now know and love-hate, many varieties didn’t even contain eggs. Royalty thickened their posset with cream or curds, and it was commoners who were forced to turn to cheaper options such as eggs.
If you don’t like eggnog, this egg-less alternative might be for you. The excellent blog “British Food: A History” covers the fascinating story of posset and includes a recipe from 1596’s The Good Housewife’s Jewel. The domestic text advises combining and gently heating thick cream, sugar, ginger, and rose water, then serving in a “silver piece or bowl.”
To make your own, heat about one cup of cream or whole milk along with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, a teaspoon of grated ginger (or more if you’re a ginger fan), and a splash of rose water. If you don’t have a silver piece, that’s okay. Just grab your fanciest glass and feel free to add the booze of your choice.
3) Canadian Military ’Nog With Kahlua and Ice Cream
Another ’nog born of military ingenuity, Moose Milk was created by Canadian soldiers during World War II.
Styles vary by military branch—the navy, army, and air force all have different, competing recipes—but the basic recipe is liquor (usually whiskey, rum, and/or vodka), cream, egg yolks, and sugar.
When on the battle lines, soldiers used whatever basic ingredients were on hand. At home, though, recipes get a bit more decadent (and, often, less alcoholic), incorporating Kahlua, ice cream, and coffee. The result is a rich, flavorful eggnog that has many fans across the Great White North.
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