An absurd number of people are finding their way to this blog after googling the words “egg nog” or “eggnog.” This is strange, especially because the only thing I’ve ever had to say on the subject of eggnog was this flippant post from nearly two years ago–whose major point was that people shouldn’t pronounce the word “inaugurate” as “inNOGGERate.”
But, since it is in fact eggnog season, I thought I’d do a little research into my trusty digital copy of Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook(1772 edition) to see if we can find any colonial antecedents to our holiday beverage. There’s nothing called an eggnog in the book, but here are two recipes for syllabub and one for a “fine cream” that would seem to be rich and festive enough to serve in the place of eggnog. First, she provides instructions “To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.” To wit:
Sweeten a quart of cyder, with double refined sugar, and grate a nutmeg into it; then milk the cow into your liquor. When you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint, or more (in proportion of the quantity of syllabub you make) of the sweetest cream you can get, all over it.
That sounds a little weird, although I admit it might be a fun activity for the kids on Christmas morning to milk a cow directly into a pan of sweetened cider. (If that’s your style.) Her next recipe sounds even noggier with the froth of some egg whites included in “A Whipt Syllabub:”
Take two porringers of cream, and one of white wine, grate in the skin of a lemon, take the whites of three eggs, sweeten it to your taste, then whip it with a whisk, take off the froth as it rises, and put it into your syllabub glasses or pots, and they are fit for use.
Fortunately, I have just the tool for this: my SwiftWhip! I had been looking in antique stores and old junk shops for an old-fashioned egg beater for years. My mother inherited one from her mother-in-law that was probably a wedding gift during the Great Depression, and I”ve been envious all these years. Well, luck was with me one day as I found a bucket of old kitchenware in an antique shop in Steamboat Springs last winter–this beater has a ball bearing-like gear that never gets off track. If you’re in the market for a beater that will beat any electric hand-held mixer, this is it. (And they’re pretty inexpensive on eBay, if you’re in the market for something like this!) I couldn’t believe how fast this sucker whipped up heavy cream. This thing is so efficient I think I’ll donate our electric mixer to the Goodwill. (It requires two hands to operate, though, unlike the electric mixer, so it’s maybe not so good for people with mobility issues.)
Mrs. Carter’s final eggnog-like recipe is “To Make a Fine Cream.” This one sounds like the tastiest as well as very close to our eggnog, which is essentially a custardy ice cream base. It appears to have been served warm or room temperature.
Take a pint of cream, sweeten it to your palate; grate a little nutmeg, put in a spoonful of orange-flower water, and rose-water, and two spoonfuls of sack; beat up four eggs and two whites, stir it all together one way over the fire, till it is thick; have cups ready, and pour it in.
I just might try this on my family this year–just a quick trip to the Middle Eastern market for orange-flower water and rose-water, and I’ve already got the rest of the ingredients. I don’t think I’ll cook this over an open fire, but rather will use my grandmother’s Depression-era tempered glass double-boiler. It’s great because you can see everything as it cooks inside the second pot as well as monitor your water and heat levels in the first pot.
They sure made great kitchen tools back in the day when the only cooking there was for most people was home cooking!