Home Life Laurie Nigro Eggnog actually once had a purpose — back in the Middle Ages

Eggnog actually once had a purpose — back in the Middle Ages

Detail of a woodcut illustration from the first printed cookbook in German, Kuchenmaistrey, c. 1485/Wikimedia

Can we talk about eggnog? Because I feel like we’ve all come to just accept that eggnog is a thing that should be a part of the holidays and I’m not sure I’m okay with that. I mean, have you ever stopped to think about what it is? Or why you would ingest something with such a suspect name?

Eggs are not generally a food item I like to consider as a beverage. In fact, just the idea of drinking an egg makes me gag. I’ve watched those “I’m a bodybuilder so I must ingest foods that say they’re good for me even when said foods are clearly extra-nasty” types of people pour raw eggs down their throats and wondered how they did not immediately die. It’s like chugging a slug. Or snot.

Even if drinking a raw egg was going to grant me a lifetime of puppies, I would not do it (unless the puppies came with full-time trainers and poop-cleaner-uppers — then maybe). There is no health benefit that would justify sliding chicken embryo into my belly.

And yet, each year, as November rolls into town and every retail establishment anywhere is bedazzled with all the red, green, and gold that exists, the dairy coolers slowly fill with the yellow-food-dyed, a little too-thick-for-comfort, beverage that we all associate with the holiday season. Even the baristas get into the game, switching seamlessly from all-things-pumpkin-spicy, to all-things-eggnoggy. It’s insidious in its ability to seep into all of our collective holiday cheer.

But really, wtf is eggnog? Have you read the label? Not that that would give you much information, as today’s drink is a far cry from its surprisingly practical beginnings (yes, of course, I researched it and will get into that later). The eggnog we find in the case at our local market is basically a processed concoction of high fructose corn syrup, multiple unpronounceable chemical combinations, artificial flavors, and a little milk and egg, for good measure. Add to that that it’s loaded with as many calories as a candy bar (and way less delicious) and you’re left wondering, why? Just why?

So here’s the story. Way back in the middle ages, milk and eggs became scarce once the weather turned cold. In order to hold onto these high protein, perishable food staples, some early food chemist figured out that if you loaded milk and eggs into a jar and dumped into it exactly too much sugar and an unhealthy dose of booze, you could ferment all of that together and keep it edible for way longer than any of those items on their own. This offered a way to make calories available during the long, bitter, food-scarce winters. Also, it kept them drunk enough to not think about how hungry they were for actual food. And prior to the existence of modern refrigeration and preservatives, this made a whole bunch of sense and probably kept a few people alive — maybe not happily, but alive.

But now we have all these things to keep our food fresh and safe. Which begs the question, why are we still drinking eggnog? It’s like armpit hair — though it has completely outgrown its necessity, evolution has yet to catch up.

When trying to explain eggnog to our both curious and slightly disturbed teenager, I had to look up the history of it and discovered all of the above information. If you’ve ever read my rantings before, you will know that my husband has a penchant for the most bizarre of recipes, and is a particular fan of all things fermented. He’s also a huge eggnog aficionado and, of course, was fascinated by eggnog’s boozy past. I’m just waiting for the day he comes home with a dozen eggs, a buttload of rum, and that twinkle in his eye that means I will soon be elbow deep in something unpleasant and possibly illegal.

I can almost bet he’ll look to this recipe for inspiration. It has just the right combination of things-that-shouldn’t-be-mixed-together and positive reviews that bring him joy. So, while you’re enjoying your holiday-inspired, store-bought eggnog, I ask that you say a little prayer that I live through the homemade hooch that will soon grace my fridge. Merry Christmas, y’all.

Laurie Nigro
Laurie is the mother of two biological children and one husband and the caretaker of a menagerie of animals. Laurie is passionate about frugal, natural living. She was recognized by the L.I. Press Club with a “best humor column” award in 2016. Email Laurie