Food is a pretty major part of human festivities, especially at holidays. At Thanksgiving, most Americans lay out the turkey and cranberry sauce no matter what their ethnic background.
For Christmas, though, traditional foods are more likely to reflect family and ethnic traditions. Italians traditionally don’t serve meat for Christmas Eve dinner—instead, the feast is fishes of various sorts. (The Mayhem Consultant said that in his half-Italian household, that translated into fried smelts and mounds of steamed shrimp.)
Eggnog belongs to the broad class of milk punches—that is, beverages made with dairy products such as milk, eggs, and cream with alcohol and spices added. These have been popular for a long time. Back in the 13th century they had the hot drinks called caudles. Similar drinks in later centuries were called possets, also served hot. The drinks were often thickened with egg yolks and the alcohol was usually wine or ale. There might be honey or sugar for sweetening, and spices such as ginger, lemon, saffron, and other expensive flavorings were added.
Because of the rich, expensive ingredients, milk punches were rather luxurious. Possets were often used to treat minor ailments like colds or coughs, and it’s easy to see how a warm drink smooth with honey and flavored with ginger would go down nicely when one is under the weather. There’s a theory that “coddle” is derived from “caudle,” which is a nice thought though linguistically not proven.)
Usually milk punches have been associated with groups and conviviality, and that is certainly true of eggnog. Picture a Christmas party from a Dickens novel with a great punch bowl of eggnog being scooped up and served to guests. Rather than wine, spirits like whiskey or rum are often used.
Eggnog is served cold, and may or may not have alcohol, though historically it usually did. With no refrigeration, dairy products were not always readily available to much of the population, so eggnog was more of an upper class or special occasion beverage. The derivation of the name eggnog may come from condensing the words egg and grog (rum), or from the fact that it was drunk from small wooden cups called noggins. After several glasses, probably no one cared much where the name came from. <G>
I have a fabulous version of eggnog that I used to make for holiday parties. The recipe came from Rob Kasper, the food writer at the Baltimore Sun, and for years he ran the recipe every holiday season. Here it is:
Alabama Eggnog: The Hard Way
8 eggs, separated. Whip the whites
2 ½ cups sugar
1 pint bourbon
5 cups whipping cream, whipped
2 cups milk
2 oz. rum
nutmeg (preferably fresh grated)
Mix egg yolks and sugar. Beat until smooth. Add bourbon very slowly, beating constantly.
Add 1 cup whipped cream to egg yolk and sugar mixture. Beat until smooth. Add milk, beating well.
Add remaining whipped cream and beat until smooth. Stir in rum.
Gently fold in stiffly beaten egg white. Chill thoroughly. Serve with nutmeg sprinkled on top.
The result is to die for, and possibly from. <G> The nog is insanely rich, smooth, and delicious, but eventually I stopped making it because so many people Had Issues with it. Some people don’t drink alcohol, others don’t like all the sugar, fat and/or calories, and then there was that raw egg. Sigh.
(For a humorous curmudgeon’s view of food issues, here’s the Sunday column by Kevin Cowherd, also of the Baltimore Sun:
Now for Eggnog: The Easy Way
The Mayhem Consultant’s father, a mixologist of no small skill, used to buy eggnog ice cream. He’d thaw it in the refrigerator, then mix in some alcohol (rum?) and serve with nutmeg on top. Not as good as the Alabama eggnog, but thick and rich and pretty good.
If time is really short, you can buy commercial eggnog, add alcohol if you like, and serve. A shake of cinnamon or nutmeg on top will make it look nice. This is a pale shadow of Alabama Eggnog, but it’s in the spirit of the season.
My second dish isn’t really a holiday one, but bear with me for a bit. Cockaleekie is a traditional Scottish soup. Scotland is a poor country, so it’s pretty simple in terms of ingredients, but very tasty. Here is the recipe I used when I started making it in my English years:
Start with a 5 ½ -6 lb stewing fowl, the older and more flavorsome, the better.
5 qts. Water
10 large leeks, washed and sliced, including some of the greens. (Should make about 8 cups of sliced leeks)
½ cup dried barley
1 tablespoon salt
finely chopped parsley
Thoroughly clean the fowl (NOT a nominal instruction with English stewing chickens!); section if desired. Put in a large soup kettle, cover with the water, boil, and skim off the frothy bits that come to the surface.
After well skimmed, add leeks, barley, and salt. Partially cover and simmer until meat is very tender and falling from the bone (a couple of hours, maybe.)
Remove bird from pot, cut off meat and shred or slice it into pieces about 2” long. Discard skin and bones. Return meat to kettle, heat through, correct seasoning, and serve with chopped parsley on top.
This makes a fine and flavorsome soup, robust and filling in cool weather, which in Scotland can be just about any time of the year. <G> The reason I mention cockaleekie is because my own easy variation of it is a fine way to use up leftover turkey. Hence:
Turkaleekie: the easy way
1 ¼ – 1 ½ lbs (20-24 oz.) of cooked turkey, cut into soup sized pieces. Using some dark meat is good for adding flavor. (You can also use two 10 oz packets of cooked, sliced breast meat, cut into convenient pieces.)
2 48 oz. cans of chicken stock (3 quarts) Chicken stock is needed because unlike from-scratch cockaleekie, stock isn’t produced by the whole bird being stewed.
5/8 cup medium barley
8 or so leeks, cleaned and sliced. (Leeks are raised in sand so grains are often buried in the layers. Careful washing is required. This is the most time consuming part of the recipe.)
2 tsp. salt
maybe some fresh ground pepper.
And that’s it—a tasty soup that freezes well, and easy to make when you can’t face another meal of leftover turkey. <G>
So what traditional foodstuffs do you consume during the holiday season? What are your favorites? And what do you do with the leftovers?!!
Have a wonderful warm and nurturing holiday season—
Mary Jo, who has tossed in pictures of several different holiday goodies