Eggnog. You either love it or hate it.
Despite 135 million pounds of the stuff being consumed every year, no one seems to know much about it. Even so, most people seem to have an opinion about it. Some claim the name itself is deeply unsettling, with “an unshakeable grossness”, others say it’s too caloric, others that you can’t have Christmas without it. And for some, the raw egg is an absolute turn-off.
Whether you prefer to go nog-less or not this holiday season, let’s explore this divisive drink’s storied past.
First things first: What the heck is a nog?
Not that ‘egg’ is any more appealing, but still, where does ‘nog’ come from? Well, no one knows for sure.
One theory is that it comes from the medieval word, ‘noggin,’ meaning wooden cup. Another is that it comes from the colonial term ‘grog,’ which Americans used to refer to strong ales.
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How Did We Get Here?
Long before eggnog lined the shelves of Trader Joes, it was called ‘posset,’ and was the hot, curdled staple drink of medieval times. Mmhmm. Monks added eggs into the mix in the 13th century, and wealthy English aristocrats later picked up the tradition on special occasions. They would toast to prosperity and good health. Raw eggs and sherry – just what the doctor ordered.
Eggnog hopped the pond to the colonies in the 1700s, where it became “the people’s drink”. Many Americans had their own farms for milk and eggs and substituted cheap rum for sherry. But spices like cinnamon and nutmeg were quite the luxury in the 19th century, and the drink became synonymous with the holidays.
The Eggnog Riot of 1826
That’s right. There was a literal riot over raw eggs, milk, and whiskey. The infamous riot went down at West Point, the military academy in New York, when the new superintendent banned alcohol for the Christmas festivities. Refusing to celebrate sober, some of the cadets smuggled in alcohol from local pubs. The night ended in broken windows, assaults, drawn swords and fired guns. No one was killed, few had their thirsts quenched, but 11 cadets were expelled.
Suffice to say people go to great lengths to protect their traditions. The party never returned to West Point, but eggnog became a permanent Christmas fixture. Even presidents had their own eggnog recipes (George Washington and Eisenhower loved their booze).
Nowadays, any liquor is fair game and lots of countries have their own variations, but the stuff at the grocery store is non-alcoholic. Eggnog purists will argue that it’s homemade or bust, that store-bought is an affront to the tradition so eloquently laid out for you (not to mention it’s much lighter on the egg). We say whatever feels right to you.
If drinking raw eggs isn’t your cup of tea, remember that at its core, eggnog is basically melted ice cream. Well, boozy melted ice cream that is. Plus, all that alcohol will help you forget what you’re drinking!
If at the next Christmas party you attend you’re a killer with the ‘nog knowledge, we’ve done our job.
Happy holidays folks!
Words by Emilie Swan