Eating History: Making 19th-Century Egg Nog (and Risking Salmonella for the Holidays)

This throwback recipe is sure to get your holiday party cracking.

  • Photos: Jaya Saxena
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Welcome to “Eating History,” a series in which Jaya Saxena of the New-York Historical Society mines the vast archives of the museum and library in search of vintage images and ephemera that offer a look into how New Yorkers used to dine. Follow the museum @NYHistory for more.

Does anyone out there actually like egg nog? And I mean really like it? Not just that you’ll put up with it for the holidays, or drink an egg nog-flavored latte and feel festive, but actually look forward to drinking it? This attempt at recreating a recipe for “Southern Egg Nog” from an anonymous 19th-century cookbook was my first time ever tasting the concoction, and it was a confusing experience. Was I just drinking unchurned, alcoholic ice cream? Is that a good thing?

The origins of this holiday drink are murky, with most surmising it came out of England, given its longstanding popularity there. But there are about as many theories about where it was created as there are recipes for it. For instance, George Washington’s version calls for whiskey, rum, brandy and sherry, as well as a dozen separated eggs and milk and cream. However, Food52′s recent take on the classic calls for a single egg yolk to add to a combination of simple syrup, cream, and booze.

The recipe found at the New-York Historical Society is closer to George Washington’s, and it called for the egg whites to be beaten into stiff peaks. I can only imagine how frustrating that would have been for the people who originally wrote this recipe, who I’m pretty sure did not have an electric mixer.

Southern Egg Nog

6 yolks beaten very well

Add 1/2 cups of powdered sugar

6 whites beaten stiffly, add 1/4 cup [yolk] mix and keep cold for a day or two if possible. A few hours before using add 1 pt. Rye whiskey and 1/4 cup Jamaica rum, add 1 pt rich milk and 1pt of very thick cream. When serving use a dash of nutmeg over each cup. Serve cold.

There was no way I could drink this alone, so I decided to have a few people over. And then, thinking this wouldn’t be enough for seven, I doubled the recipe. I’ll tell you right now that you should not double this recipe if you’re having fewer than eight people over, because everyone will have about five cups and be hammered and/or sick and there will still be lots left over.

For me, this meant beating a dozen egg whites into stiff peaks, and then keeping that mixture in the fridge for two days. After adding the liquor and all the cream, the stiff peaks served as a frothy garnish on the top, which made for lovely Instagram photos. Just be sure to drink it while it’s still cold; as it reaches room temperature, the foam starts to turn into more of a congealed skin. Still, my guests seemed to enjoy themselves. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, nor was it too thick to sip enjoyably, and the rye added a nice yeasty flavor. Though I’ll suggest cutting yourself off at some point before five cups.

 

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