If you were lucky enough to visit Martha Pearl Villas’ home in 1960s Charlotte, North Carolina, during the holidays, you would have been treated to a crystal glass of her ice-cold eggnog, generously laced with bourbon and sprinkled with ground nutmeg. “Mother is still never without a large pitcher of eggnog in the refrigerator to serve with slices of fruitcake and cookies,” writes the late James Villas in his 1994 cookbook/memoir My Mother’s Southern Kitchen. As a hallmark of Southern-style holiday hospitality, eggnog, like fruitcake, has fallen from favor; the cloyingly sweet, mass-produced versions are understandably maligned. But this unfortunate state of affairs is easily corrected in your own kitchen.
It is believed that eggnog is descended from posset, a warm milk punch spiked with wine or beer that originated in medieval England as a restorative drink for the sick. Eggs were added later, as was sugar, which would have only been available to the wealthy. British colonists eventually brought the drink to America, where the wine or beer was replaced by rum, whiskey, brandy, or sherry—sometimes in all at once—and “eggnog” first entered the lexicon. George Washington’s oft-cited recipe includes a pint of brandy, a half pint each of rye whiskey and Jamaican rum, and a quarter pint of sherry, a quart each of cream and milk, a dozen eggs, and sugar. Thankfully, none of his guests were driving home.
Eggnog has cousins around the world. Puerto Ricans sip coquito, a heady mixture of coconut milk and cream, condensed milk, and rum. At a German Christmas Market, you might be offered a warm glass of eierpunsch (egg punch), made with egg liqueur, white wine, rum, and whipped cream. Bolivians drink biblia con pisco, which has eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and pisco, but no milk or cream. For James Oseland, the longtime editor-in-chief of Saveur and a friend of James Villas, the standard bearer is rompope, first made by nuns in seventeenth century Puebla, Mexico. It includes finely ground almonds, milk, sugar, eggs, and cane alcohol, and is spiced with cinnamon and lemon rind. “It’s the mother eggnog, as far as I’m concerned,” says Oseland, a resident of Mexico City.
Stateside, the cocktail renaissance has sparked a fresh interest in homemade eggnog, especially above the Mason-Dixon line. Some bartenders have even experimented with aging it for up to a year, although this falls into the “don’t try this at home” category. Do try Villas’ classic recipe. And don’t worry about using raw eggs; the alcohol more than eliminates any potential bacteria.
- 6 large eggs separated
- 1 cup sugar divided
- 2 cups blended whiskey or bourbon
- 2 cups half-and-half
- Ground nutmeg fresh if possible
- ►Combine egg yolks and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl, whisking until light and lemon colored. Gradually add whiskey, whisking constantly. Add the half- and-half, whisking to combine.
- ►Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until thick, then add remaining sugar and beat until stiff. Fold into egg yolk mixture. Chill thoroughly before serving in a punch bowl or individual glasses sprinkled with nutmeg.