British Columbia·Point of View

How the 'slimy glop' sold as eggnog lost its noggin

On Heidi Fink’s tongue, homemade egg nog tastes like Christmas Eve.

‘There’s nothing wrong with having a new idea of what egg nog means’

Canadians drink 5.3-million litres of commercial eggnog during the holidays according to the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada. (Isaac Wedin/Flickr)

On Heidi Fink's tongue, homemade eggnog tastes like Christmas Eve.

Her mom only made it once a year, homemade from a 100-year-old recipe that called for two quarts of whiskey and two dozen eggs.

"It was so expensive," said the Victoria chef.

"It was so delicious. Everybody wanted to drink just like a litre of it. Tasted like the biggest best milkshake you've ever had."

5.3-million litres of 'nog sold

And it was nothing like the "slimy" glop you can buy in supermarkets, said Fink.

It was rich, frothy, laden with cream and raw eggs — with stiffly beaten whites.

Eggnog comes in a variety of flavours and can be found almost year-round, in many cases with no eggs at all. (CBC)

"And people are quite leery of that nowadays," said Fink. "People ate it like that for centuries, before they decided it's bad for you."

A page out of history. This eggnog recipe is more than 100 years old, and it still works. (Heidi Fink/Commonwealth Club Richmond Virginia)

Canadians guzzled some 5.3-million litres of commercially-made eggnog during the 2014 holiday season — almost as much as whipping cream, according to Statistics Canada.

But a lot less than they used to drink. A decade ago it was closer to eight-million litres. 

The holiday elixir just does not deliver nostalgia to everybody's taste buds like it used to. In fact, the ancient drink can  be quite divisive.

Some turn up their nose at the fat content.

Eggnog as we know it. But could the egg and cream Christmas concoction change to a year-round beverage? (CBC)

Others rant that the gloopy mixtures that masquerade as eggnog on store shelves — almost all year round now — are an abomination compared to the real stuff.

The recipe's been lost to mass production and safety concerns over raw eggs.

Variants of the creamy concoction now appear long before Christmas, most bereft of traditional ingredients.

There's soy, almond, coconut and even a horrifying marshmallow version at Easter — perhaps an homage to the scene in Little House on the Prairie when eggnog is delivered with chipped ice to farm workers on a hot day?

Eggs or no eggs?

Few commercial nogs even contain cream, much less the traditional raw eggs enjoyed in the 1800s.

The National Dairy Code defines eggnog as: "food made from milk and cream containing milk and cream which has been flavoured and sweetened. The food shall contain not less than 3.25 per cent milk fat and not less than 23 per cent total solids."

"While there are no specific legal product standards for eggnog in Canada or restrictions on when it can be sold, the drink must be labelled in an "accurate, truthful and not misleading" way.

So, if there are no eggs. No eggnog on the label.

Rum and eggnog anyone? The taste ranges from frothy, boozy to 'slimy glop' on some tongues. (David Armano/Flickr)

"If the product does not contain dairy ingredients and egg products, the use of the term "eggnog" on its own could be considered misleading, if consumers would expect these ingredients in the food."

"In cases where the product does not contain eggs, additional information to that effect should be provided on the label," according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's media relations department,

However, that doesn't stop beverage makers — or expensive coffee vendors — from ladling on the Christmas nostalgia and cashing in on the spices — nutmeg and vanilla — which give eggnog its characteristic taste.

But Fink insists store-bought nog can't hold a candle to her mom's mixture.

Yes, it's full of fat. Yes, it's expensive. But if you ever try it,  you will never think of eggnog the same way again.

When she makes it now, Fink first creates a custard base with the eggs, then adds other ingredients, in her current version of her mom's old-fashioned egg nog, so they are in essence cooked, solving bacterial concerns.

Noggin lost long ago

Despite Fink's love of the rich, festive drink, she has no problem with others experimenting with new types of nog.

Let's face it. We stopped using nogs to drink eggnog a long time ago.

Eggnog used to be slurped from a 'noggin' or hand crafted wooden cup. (Art Antiques Michigan)

Historically, the name was somehow derived from the wooden cup used to drink the alcohol-infused concoction. And it was made with entirely different ingredients, which shifted through the ages.

"From what I understand about eggnog, the history is kind of murky," said Fink.

The common thread to the alcoholic milk punch seemed to be "eggs, milk and sugar."

How eggnog got its handle

But historically, it might have been made with beer, grog (watered rum) or even wine.

It's thought to have migrated with Europeans to the New World where full-force rum or whiskey replaced grog

Like with language and social norms. Food also changes- Chef Heidi Fink

Hence the name "egg and grog in a noggin" shifted over time to eggnog.

It was made in large quantities and served at social occasions cold. America's first president, George Washington, was a fan and had his own recipe: heavy on the rye whiskey, sherry and rum — for the stout of heart only.

It's changed so much from that, to non-alcoholic, non-egg and even non-dairy. Fink sees no reason why recipes need to stay static.

"The fight between what's rigorously authentic and what's more modern and user-friendly. Like with language and social norms, food also changes. There's nothing wrong with having a new idea of what eggnog means." said Fink.

So bottoms up on whatever version of the nog suits your fancy — boozy, creamy or — yes, even the "slimy glop" that would never have graced the Fink family table on Christmas Eve.

Ladling spiced eggnog into somebody's noggin sounds weird, but that's what George Washington used to do. (Dominick/Flickr)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca

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