American Christmas Traditions: Egg Nog

Eggnog was originally a British “posset” before becoming an American drink (hot milk mixed with wine or ale and spices). A few classic recipes include eggs.

Eggnog ancestors

Possets treated colds and flu in the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, the drink was transformed into a cold set milk pudding called posset. UK aristocrats drank “posher” possets made with Sherry or Brandy instead of beer or ale.

Eggnog’s “nog” has several origins. East Anglian strong beer was called “nog,” and adding eggs made it eggnog. Another idea is that the nog derives from the Middle English word “noggin,” a tiny, carved wooden mug used to serve wine (and still a song term for your head!). Another says the nog derives from nugg or nugged ale, a Scottish phrase for drink warmed by a fire poker!

In the mid-1700s, the drink traveled to the US, where rum was sometimes used instead of ale. Eggnog may have been called egg-n-grog because rum was called grog. 

Eggs and strong beers or eggs in noggin cups make more sense. Jonathan Boucher, a clergyman, and philologist from Maryland penned a hilarious poem about his daily drinks in 1775, including eggnog! (His poetry was published 30 years after his death.) 

“Fog-drams in the morning, or better, egg-nogg,

Nighttime hot-suppings and midday grogg

My palate delights…”

Bottoms up!

New Jersey newspapers reported in March 1788:

A young man with a ravenous appetite consumed thirty raw eggs, a glass of eggnog, and a brandy sling at Connecticut farms last week. 

The Virginia Chronicle in 1793 first linked Christmas and eggnog:

“Last Christmas Eve, six gentlemen convened at Northampton courthouse to celebrate with EGG-NOG, the company’s main liquor. After drinking a lot of this wine, a gentleman bet that no one could write four rhymed and syllabled verses extemporaneously.”

“Travels Through the States of North America and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada” (volume 2) from 1799 explained how a Baltimore inn made eggnog:

“The American travelers, before continuing their voyage, took a hearty draught each, according to custom, of egg-nog, a concoction of new milk, eggs, rum, and sugar, pounded up together;…”

George Washington served eggnog in the 1790s. His recipe included rum, whisky, and sherry!