Proposed By: Jonathan
Reviewed By: David
One could posit that the proposed drink is more a posset than an eggnog. That assumes, of course, that one knows the difference between a posset and a nog or even what a posset is.
The history of eggnog can be traced back to England and a hot drink that sometimes doubled as a dessert. Possets date back to at least the 15th century based on their appearance in historic documents. Samuel Pepys wrote of eating a sack posset in his diary and was referring to a warm milk drink that was curdled with sack (like a sherry), sweetened and spiced. The classic version included milk or cream, sugar, spices, an ale or wine for curdling, and some kind of thickening agent. Special pots, much like a fat separator for gravy only much fancier, were used to pour out the lighter liquid to drink while leaving the thicker part to eat like a custard (a syllabub if you want to be technical). Later versions added eggs although both eggs and dairy were available mostly to the upper class.
Shakespeare referenced possets in a number of plays. David is the Shakespeare scholar in our family so I am sure he immediately thought of Lady Macbeth in reading that word. She used a drugged posset to render Duncan’s guards immobile so that Macbeth could steal in and assassinate the king. It appears she even enjoyed a spirited version of the drink to fortify herself:
That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold
What hath quenched them hath given me fire
This beverage tradition of possets traveled to the colonies. Milk, cream and eggs were of much wider availability which could have led to greater popularity. The sack or sherry was replaced with the more common spirit, rum, in the colonial version. Speculation on the name relates to both the addition of rum and the type of cup in which the drink was traditionally served. Rum, or grog in common parlance, led to a drink called egg and grog. It was served in a small rounded wooden cup called a noggin (yes that is where the slang reference to the head probably started) and became egg and grog in a noggin. Finally, nog is slang for ale, which was of course one of the original ingredients in the posset.
Whatever the origin, what we call eggnog makes its regular appearance as the holidays approach and the weather, in theory, turns colder. The version that I proposed came from Southern Living and included an unusual addition unless you consider the evolution of the drink. This Hot Cider Nog adds apple cider which harkens back to the cider, ale or wine used in a posset:
2 cups half and half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
½ cup cider
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream and cinnamon sticks for garnish
Mix the first 8 ingredients in a large saucepan and gradually warm while stirring occasionally. The recipe recommends cooking until the thickened liquid coats the back of a spoon. I whisked the liquid almost constantly until it reached a temperature of 160 degrees to ensure those pesky eggs were safe but the milk and cream not overly scalded. The bourbon goes in last and I did bump the amount up to ¾’s cup.
There are recipes that suggest the final product should be cooled and even aged in the refrigerator for periods up to or even beyond six months. Our eggnog did get cooled but it had little time to age in a house full of family and guests. The odd addition, cider, was really not distinctive in the drink and fortunately did not curdle the milk. It did make for a lighter eggnog that was much better than the usual store-bought versions.
Here’s David’s Review:
It occurred to me (ever so briefly) that I might save myself all sorts of time and trouble by just buying eggnog at the grocery. Making eggnog yourself is a delicate process—too hot and you have bits of scrambled egg in your drink and too cool and you might as well be Rocky before a morning run. Plus, the commercial stuff is readily available, and as a child, I loved it. I always looked forward to the holiday season when that carton hung around in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn’t think of adulterating it with alcohol.
But now I know how caloric commercial eggnog is. Its preternatural viscosity probably derives from the sap of a South American tree, and the only eggs that go near it must start as powder. I’m a grown-up now. Making my own eggnog can’t be that daunting.
Well, okay, it was. Jonathan suggested a thermometer to assure the mixture didn’t reach 180°, and I’m glad he did. It seemed to keep the curdling down to a minimum and the cocktail from being too viscous. The apple cider also made the nog a little thinner than usual, which fooled me into thinking it might not be thickening as it should be. I worried more than I should (not surprising news for anyone in my family) but the whole concoction came together suddenly… accompanied by a sigh of relief.
And the result was well worth it because the cider undercut the usual sweetness of eggnog with a pleasant acidity. The whip cream added too, as it melted almost immediately and made the drink creamier and richer. While the holidays offer no shortage of celebratory libations, this one seemed a particularly suitable nightcap.
Jonathan is more of a historian than I am—as he mentioned, I’ve taught Shakespeare for years, yet have always wondered what the heck a “posset” is—but I’m the sentimentalist. Tradition impresses me most. Eggnog hardly seems a 21st century drink, and I have a hard time believing millennials, with all their post-modern fixations, will keep it going. However, that groceries still stock eggnog, that Starbucks still makes it a prominent ingredient, that people still drink it (at least in all of those cheesy holiday movies), all that suggests some elements of the past are hard to erase. In this case, I’m glad.
Jonathan’s take: Homemade eggnogs really are better.
David’s take: My favorite version of eggnog yet… eradicates my Tom and Jerry nightmares, almost.
Next Time (Proposed By David):
My collection of cocktail books isn’t as extensive as my brother’s, but I have a few. I thought I’d pick one from a gift I received last Christmas called Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The authors, Eric Prum and Josh William, are from Brooklyn, where my son lives (in Bushwick), and I’ve been particularly intrigued by one of their winter cocktails called The Bushwick Spice Trade. It uses Gin, sugar cubes, lemon juice, and—for spice—basil, pink peppercorns, and fresh ginger. The authors say, “We like to pair this intriguing cocktail with spicy Asian take-out when frigid temperatures call for a night in.” After so much celebration, that sounds good to me.