What is eggnog and why do people drink it at Christmas?

Love it or hate it, this American festive drink is best consumed in small amounts

Essentially, eggnog is like a cold uncooked custard. Photograph: Getty Images

Essentially, eggnog is like a cold uncooked custard. Photograph: Getty Images

 

While watching your favourite American Christmas movie – think Die Hard, Elf or Home Alone – have you ever paused to wonder what eggnog is? Our stateside cousins seem to gather around punch bowls of the stuff at Christmas parties, sipping from little cups filled with this creamy holiday drink.

Essentially, the drink is like a cold uncooked custard. If that sounds unappetising, just bear with me for a moment. It’s most common iteration is a mixture of raw egg, sugar, cream, milk and booze, seasonally spiced with the likes of nutmeg and cinnamon, best served cold by a roaring fire. According to Time.com, its origins aren’t quite traceable but it’s thought to share a common heritage with the medieval British posset, which is a hot, milk-based boozy drink.

Eggnog is thought to have made its American debut sometime in the 1700s. The origins of the name “eggnog” is somewhat of a mystery, apart from the obvious connection to egg. “Some say ‘nog’ comes from ‘noggin’, meaning a wooden cup, or ‘grog’ a strong beer,” according to Elizabeth Dias on Time.com. “By the late 18th century, the combined term ‘eggnog’ stuck.”

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Very rich

Kristin Jensen is an American food writer, editor and chair of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild. She has lived in Ireland since the late 1990s – that’s a lot of holidays without eggnog. She’s a fan of the drink, though she does think of it as the Marmite of holiday drinks. “You either love it or hate it,” she says. “Either way, you only want a little taste of it. It’s very rich.”

Jensen has made eggnog a couple of times over the years, because it’s so simple and it can have an unexpectedly evocative effect on the people who sip it. “I made my American father-in-law cry one year with my eggnog,” she says. “It brought him right back to his childhood in one sip, even though we were celebrating Christmas in Ireland that year. As the person who made it, it made me tear up too to see the impact of something so simple. It took me five minutes to make and it had such a deep effect.”

Imen McDonnell, an American who married an Irish farmer, shares her take on this traditional holiday drink through her Smoky Irish Eggnog recipe on her blog www.farmette.ie. Her recipe gets its smokiness from peat-smoked Connemara whiskey. “Luckily (like everything) eggnog is better homemade,” McDonnell writes. “And, using fresh milk and cream from the farm to prepare it can’t be beat.” Perhaps this season you could give this American classic a try, using the best of Irish ingredients?

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