I'm getting' Noggin for Christmas 

When I was a child, our family made an annual pilgrimage to my Uncle Ed's chicken ranch in South-Central Texas each Christmas (Not to be confused with the infamous Chicken Ranch in Nevada, which, for the record, I have never visited despite those photos on the Internet). The older folks--speaking Czech around the kitchen table playing dominos for hours--ignored the progeny too numerous to count. For most of the day we raised holy hell outside, fueled by my great grandmother's homemade candy, kolaches and the huge bowl of eggnog she would make every year.

Eggnog is a staple of the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Christmas it's in the grocery store dairy section, usually only leaving the shelves as it expires in January. But that isn't real nog. It's not the real McCoy.

Historically, eggnog was a drink of the British upper class, originating in England sometime in the 17th century and most likely evolved from another English drink called posset made from eggs, milk and wine or ale. The name either came from a bastardization of egg-n-grog (a common name for rum during the colonial era) or 'noggin'--a small wooden mug often used in taverns during that time.

Real nog is made from simple ingredients: raw eggs, whole milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and booze--no pasteurized, non-alcoholic stuff filled with chemical flavorings in the traditional stuff. With no reliable refrigeration back then, milk and eggs could be saved for some time with "preservatives" such as whisky, sherry, Madeira or any of the new spirits being imported from the Caribbean and the colonies, namely rum. As the drink migrated to new lands, wherever it took hold the alcohol used to "cook" the raw eggs in the recipe was what was available; rum in the Caribbean, coastal colonies and Mexico; bourbon and whiskey in the Colonial Interior; and brandy in France. At Uncle Ed's, the old folks used all three, much like President George Washington's recipe (which also included sherry), which was legendarily stiff. While my great-grandmother cut back on the amount of alcohol in the recipe to "cold-cook" the eggs, we could always manage to find an uncle on the couch engrossed in the football game with a bottle of the good stuff to "give us a taste" and top off our nog. Then we'd run back outside. We weren't fooling anyone. The old folks knew we were drinking the nog. After all, when the games inside were boring, we became their entertainment. And by the time the real party started we'd be sleeping with visions of the previous night's sugarplums.

Actually, the nog lathered us kids into a frenzy. We'd have egg fights in the chicken sheds, throwing the weaker in the pecking order among us in to the stock pond and trying to find a way in to the locked barn, which several of the more serious relatives advised us to stay away from. Perhaps it was the bloodstains on the door which made us heed their words and fueled our nightmarish nog visions.

Great Grandma Hosek's Eggnog

(to be made in large batches only)

16 eggs,

One gallon whole milk,

One cup sugar,

One teaspoon salt,

Two tablespoons vanilla,

One quart of brandy, rum, bourbon or a combo of all three.

Separate eggs and beat yolks with sugar. Whisk while slowly pouring in spirits. Beat egg whites and salt until stiff. Fold in to the yolk/sugar/spirit mixture and then add the milk. Chill for an hour and serve with a dash of nutmeg of allspice.

WARNING: Of all the hangover inducing concoctions I have imbibed in my life, none has created more of a next-morning paralysis than overindulging in this recipe.

WARNING #2: Use fresh eggs. While the booze should cook out any salmonella, you are using uncooked eggs. And what with avian flu flying around ... well, you have been warned.

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