A fluke turned fatty eggnog into holiday trim. English colonists new to America's ale- and wine-barren shores improvised on a drink served in small, handled "noggins" at pubs back home. Ale, also called "nog," or dry sack wine was mixed in the noggin with milk and eggs. In America, rum--an ingredient in some grogs--ran freely. The colonists substituted the more potent liquor and dubbed it eggnog. Administered at bedsides as well as pubs, eggnog became a favorite cure for melancholy.
Nowadays, with much more effective cures for holiday blues available, eggnog just looks like a spur for postparty depression. The modern yellow slurry is just a liquid salt-free omelet sitting blandly in Christmas punch bowls, meagerly laced--if at all--with rum or rum extract and a stingy dusting of nutmeg. It has more the look and mouth-feel of something cooked up by Sherwin-Williams than by Williams-Sonoma. And far from the elixir it's imagined to be, eggnog is about as fortifying as chilled hemlock or swollen cans of soup. Most eggnog recipes call for raw eggs, and while adding liquor to the mix may help ward off some household germs, it offers no protection against salmonella. And, of course, it moves more fat through one's veins than Santa can squeeze through a chimney.
For those looking for a holiday libation that won't double as an euthanazing agent, other drinks offer less yule clog and more spice.
Tru's Gail Gand, pastry chef extraordinaire and author of the new Butter Sugar Flour Eggs (Clarkson Potter) suggests a cider punch. Gand got the recipe when she lived in England some years back. It came from her elderly neighbor, a Mrs. Essam who formerly cooked in the kitchen at Stapleford Park, a Leicestershire estate belonging to the Gretton family of Bass beer and ale fame. It's one of those English recipes that seems especially suited to a cook addressed as "Missus," the sort who knows her way around a larder, a spice cabinet, and a liquor cabinet stocked with the fruits of empire. Mrs. Essam measured out the ingredients for her cider in flagons, wine glasses, and siphons. Post-Tudor era measurements are as follows:
Gail Gand's Cider Cup a la Stapleford
1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider
1 cup water
Juice of 1 small lemon or 1/2 large lemon
1/2 cup cream sherry
3/8 cup soda water
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Dash of bitters
2 slices each of orange and tangerine
A good quantity of ice
Brian Duncan, formerly the wine director at Spruce and currently a partner in (and wine director of) the just-opened Bin 36, offers another tonic for
a lifetime of bland sipping: a spiced drink served wickedly hot. The hot rum toddy Duncan cooks infuses one's lungs with a steam of cloves and cinnamon and strokes the throat with spiced tea and rum. He came up with it at the request of two guests--older gentlemen, and friends of forty-odd years--who met each year in Chicago at Christmas to catch up over a hot drink. The pair started coming to Spruce when their regular haunt closed its doors, and asked Duncan for something warming but not wimpy. The addition of tea lends a smoothness to this potent drink that should soothe even the most wistful eggnog nursers.
Each toddy should be prepared individually and served in a tall glass mug.
Brian Duncan's Hot Rum Toddy
3/8 cup hot tea made from loose-leaf orange-spiced tea (or one tea bag of spiced tea) steeped for no more than three minutes
1/2 shot each of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, Myer's Dark Rum, and Bacardi Spice Rum
3/8 cup fresh apple cider, heated
1 cube raw brown sugar
1 short length of cinnamon stick
1 slice each of orange and apple
--Ted C. Fishman
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.