COVID-mas 2020 is going to be a departure from past Christmases. But, that could be a good think. We’ll be happy to pass on the bottled ‘nog spiked with well bourbon by Uncle Chad. No traveling means plenty of time to make our eggnog from scratch.
This year, we’re eschewing the contemporary drinks experts and turning to some historic drinking experts. Several titans of the arts were no stranger to (Christmas) drinks. We loved the eggnog specs from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Eudora Welty, and Charles Mingus.
Edgar Allan Poe
Many literary scholars regard Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Murders in Rue Morgue‘ to be the first Western detective story. However, not too many clues are required to understand Poe’s affinity for alcohol. Although, the dark wordsmith slowed his drinking later in life, his early years were well lubricated by booze, particularly brandy.
In an 1887 Harper’s article, one of Poe’s college roommates remarked, that he was “seldom without a bottle of Benny Haven’s best brandy. … He had already acquired the more dangerous habit of constant drinking.”
Brandy also forms the basis of the Poe family eggnog recipe. The specs have been printed in dozens of Baltimore cookbooks and Poe features over the last 100 years.
Eudora Welty’s Family Eggnog
(Misattributed to Dickens)
Charles Dickens is synonymous with Christmas due to his seminal tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s yule-time redemption. So, it is not surprising that his eggnog recipe is frequently reprinted.
What is surprising is that Dickens’ recipe was likely not his own, but the family formula from literary legend Eudora Welty. The earliest appearance of the Dickens specs are actually a note from Welty’s mother Chestina, a fanatical fan of the Victorian author.
Eudora Welty explored the drink’s provenance in a later life remembrance, writing.
In our house while I was growing up, I don’t remember that hard liquor was served at all except on one day in the year. Early on Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of the eggbeater: Mother in the kitchen was whipping up eggnog. All in our bathrobes, we began our Christmas before breakfast. Throughout the day Mother made batches afresh. All our callers expected her eggnog.
It was ladled from the punch bowl into punch cups and silver goblets, and had to be eaten with a spoon. It stood up in peaks. It was rich, creamy and strong. Mother gave full credit for the recipe to Charles Dickens.
Charles Mingus was celebrated for his work on the bass, but in some quarters, the jazz legend’s drinks were also the stuff of legend.
“Mingus’s holiday eggnog was a concoction so delicious and mind-blowing, you would do anything to make sure that you saw him at Christmas,” explained Mingus friend and biographer Janet Coleman in Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs. “Over the phone once, he gave me the recipe.”
True to form, Mingus’ eggnog recipe involves a lot of improvisation. The original, as told to Coleman is linked here. Be sure to savor Mingus’ instructions, especially Step 13.