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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12 Days of Christmas, Part II: Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of...Eggnog?

A Brief History on America's
Favorite Christmas Beverage


The Christmas season has had a long association with an assortment of delicious holiday treats. Everything from candy canes to gingerbread men, fruitcake to fruit baskets have delighted the palates of generations of Americans. One of the most popular items during the Christmas season is eggnog. In fact, over the course of the next couple of weeks, Americans will consume 2 billion gallons of eggnog at various parties, gatherings, etc. Yes, many a family will gather around their Christmas tree this season to enjoy a tall, cool glass of rich eggnog.

But just how "Christmassy" and American is eggnog?

Eggnog did not take long to make its first appearance in America. At Jamestown, John Smith mentioned how popular the drink was for the settlers during the Christmas season. Though not celebrated in the same fashion as today, Christmas still provided the Jamestown settlers with an excuse to drink "grog." Grog was colonial slang for any beverage containing rum (brings a new meaning to the expression of feeling "groggy" in the morning). Eventually, the word was changed to "nog." In addition, eggnog probably descended from the English drink "posset" or "sack posset," which was a hot drink made with sweetened milk and ale and was often mixed with eggs.

In a recent article on colonial Christmas, historian Jeff Westover explained the role eggnog played in colonial Christmas traditions:
Eggnog was one of the most common holiday traditions of Colonial America. Before there were Christmas trees, before there was Santa Claus, and long before there was ever a national holiday called Christmas there was the annual tradition of eggnog.

Eggnog definitely has ties to old England and the time-honored tradition of wassail. Though different from wassail, which used fruits as a base, eggnog's consistent ingredient has always been eggs. But aside from the eggs and milk or cream, eggnog of the 18th century could contain any manner of wine, beer, ale or other spirits. Spices, most notably nutmeg, were also constants.

George Washington's recipe called for one quart of cream, one quart of milk, a dozen eggs, one pint of brandy, a half pint of rye, a quarter pint of rum and a quarter pint of sherry. He was famous, especially after the Revolutionary War, for holding festive Christmas gatherings featuring his unique brand of eggnog.
So as you are celebrating Christmas with your family and you serve yourself a tall glass of delicious eggnog, remember that you are in good company. Americans since the beginning were doing the same.

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