Skip to comments.Eggnog: A Colonial Christmas Tradition (Gen. Washington's Recipe)
Posted on 12/17/2005 8:35:25 AM PST by Pharmboy
The General's Eggnog
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
A quarter pint of sherry
Christmas of 1826 was snowy, cold and lonely for the cadets of West Point. Though called "men" they were really teenage boys -- some as young as 17 -- and they wanted to celebrate Christmas. Young Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, was amongst them.
But West Point then, as it is now, was a house of order and discipline. The military academy was under the strictest orders of sobriety that Christmas season. And being young men some took it upon themselves to challenge those orders in the name of holiday celebration. They organized, they partied -- and then they got caught.
During excused absences the men of West Point would visit area taverns and drink grog -- a mix of alcoholic spirits and spices whose many differing recipes came over from the Old World of England in those post-revolutionary times. But for their clandestine Christmas celebration of 1826 they sought to make eggnog - a creamy mixture of typical grog ingredients combined with milk, cream and eggs. Military tradition had passed down rumors of a fancy for the drink from George Washington himself, whose stiff recipe challenged even the heartiest drinker. It was the seasonal tradition of Christmas in colonial America and for these boys it was a sentimental taste of home.
Carefully they planned their party. The ingredients were brought in under cover of darkness, at varying times and by the hands of several individuals. On Christmas Eve they posted guards to look out for watchful superior officers, blackened their windows and began mixing their eggnog. There party proceeded unnoticed until 4:30 in the morning when the effects of their celebration started to take effect rather noisily. By that point keeping the officers from noticing was impossible. What ensued thereafter has come to be known in legend as the Eggnog Riot. One cadet ended up facing murder charges by the time it was said and done. Six others resigned and 19 others were court martialed. And many, including Jefferson Davis, received the punishment of being confined to quarters for more than a month.
But many, even some of those expelled from the academy, expressed no regret for their involvement in the event. It was after all Christmas. And it was, after all, only eggnog.
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.
Eggnog continues to this day as a holiday tradition. Available now in grocery stores as early as mid-October, eggnog is as popular as a non-alcoholic beverage as it once was in its raw form. It has over time become one of the classic flavors of Christmas and has spawned a mini-industry of eggnog-flavored creations from cheese cake to ice cream.
And The General evidently liked a potent eggnog, eh?
The Washington Family Coat of Arms
Freepmail me to get on or off this RevWar/Colonial History/Gen. Washington ping list...
Holy cow. Well, it'll definitely warm you up on those cold nights. And you can probably pour it in and run your snowblower on it in a pinch :)
Speaking of spirits... I broke down last eve while at my favorite tavern and ordered a shot of Johnny Walker Blue... well worth the $23.
Incredible! Tastes like Oban Lite, with a bit of peatiness yet smooth. This morning I bought a 1.75 litre bottle for $21.00...excellent.
And it might be cheaper than gasoline...
These days, yeah. Although in my neck of the woods the milk and cream might be the most expensive components...
I've seen eggnog recipes before, and the thought of salmonella always scares me.
another period recipe:
An Excellent Method of making Punch
Take two large fresh lemons with rough skins, quite ripe, and some large lumps of double-refined sugar. Rub the sugar over the lemons until it has abosorbed all the yellow part of the skins. Then put into the bowl these lumps, and as much more as the juice of the lemons may be supposed to require; for no certain weight can be mentioned, as the acidity of a lemon cannot be known till tried, and therefore must be determined by the taste. Then squeeze the lemon-juice upon the sugar; and with a bruiser press the sugar and the juice particularly well together, for a great deal of the richness and fine flavour of the punch depends on this rubbing and mixing process being thoroughly performed. Then mix this up very well with boiling water (soft water is best) till the whole is rather cool. When this mixture, (which is now called the sherbet) is to your taste, take brandy and rum in equal quantities and put them to it, mixing the whole well together again. The quanity of liquor must be according to your taste: two good lemons are generally enough to make four quarts of punch, including a quart of liquor, with half a pound of sugar; but this depends much on taste, and on the strength of the spirit.
As the pulp is disagreeable to some persons, the sherbet may be strained before the liquor is put in. Some strain the lemon before they put it into the sugar, which is improper; as, when the pulp and sugar are well mixed together, it adds much to the richness of the punch.
When only rum is used, about half a pint of porter will soften the punch; and even when both rum and brandy are used, the porter gives a richness, and to some a very pleasant flavor.
From the New System of Domestic Cookery, 1807, pg. 257
I made a punch based on this recipe one year. I used a lemon grater, though. Squeezed the juice, heated the water until the sugar dissolved, and then added the alcohol. It was quite potent, but tasty.
And for those who might be thinking of a period feast, here are some sites with interesting and usable recipes:
That amount of alcohol should kill the little criters, I would imagine...
And, the drink that they most often served to their guests: rum punch!
I bought a bottle of Eggnog flavored CoffeeMate for a surprise party Thursday night and no one would touch it. I'm glad I didn't buy the pumpkin pie flavored CoffeeMate!
Thanks for those links...very interesting, KAC. My son-in-law and I have talked about making turducken one year when we can get the time needed. That was part of the Mount Vernon Christmas feast.
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