Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Legend of the Noggin-Numbing Eggnog
One hand of his held fast to the leash of his basset hound; the other bore what is now my legacy to carry on.
"I bring you some holiday cheer!" announced George, a scholarly gentleman in his late 60s with a snowy Abe Lincoln beard who had lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades. He presented me with his gift, wished me a happy then moved on with his self-appointed rounds.
I closed the door perplexed, partially by having an unexpected visitor on Christmas Eve but mostly by what I now held in my hand.
It appeared to be a repurposed brandy bottle. Inside appeared a liquid whose look and viscosity resembled pancake batter, assuming that, as I learned upon unscrewing the cap and taking a whiff, said batter had been mixed by W.C. Fields and Dean Martin.
While my previous neighbor in Texas and I had on occasion bonded over beers in the rear alley (never fault TV's "King of the Hill" for a lack of suburban Dallas accuracy), this was different. This turned out to be my official rite of passage into our new community: the Yuletide ritual of "The Passing Out Of The Eggnog" which, if not acted upon judiciously by recipients I learned, can quickly devolve into -- yes, Virginia -- "The Passing Out From The Eggnog."
George had been making and sharing his concoction annually since the late 1950s. That’s when he and his roommates at the time became intrigued by a cookbook recipe. When George and his wife moved to Vermont a couple of years ago, they passed down their version of the recipe to some of us at their farewell party; however, succession plans for neighborhood distribution were never discussed.
Encouraged by my wife, who knows of my conflicting desires to want to be the center of attention and to avoid prolonged interaction with people, I have since become The Merry Mixer of Uncool Acres.
My first pass at this new role came last winter. Quarts of milk and cream were emptied, dozens of eggs beaten, and pounds of sugar added even before I had poured the first drops of the rum and brandy.
Ah -- the rum and brandy.
As its imbibers will attest, the effects of this particular eggnog are decidedly warm and, shortly thereafter, inevitably fuzzy.
This, I now know, comes from a nog to non-nog ratio that slightly exceeds 1-to-1. This proportioning explains why one neighbor claimed he kept one of George's bottles in his refrigerator for a year before opening it only to find it unspoiled and even more potent than ever.
Having earlier sampled a quart of my brewing from last December, I confirm the myth. And a slight headache.
Once mixed and bottled, I loaded my sack, harnessed my Labrador retriever and set about the streets to keep the tradition alive. Several people were not home at the time, but when a door opened, I was greeted warmly, and sometimes even with the same perplexed look I gave George several years ago.
As I readied to whip up this season's elixir last week, I became curious about the true origins of this parochial legend and hit the Internet.
Via Google Books, I learned its origins lie in a submission by a Col. C. H. Welch of Tucson, Ariz., for “Wild Moose Milk – A Different Eggnog” that appeared in a mid-century edition of "Adventures in Good Cooking and the Art of Carving" by Duncan Hines, the man who sacrificed his good name to supermarket cake mix everywhere. The ingredients and ratios match George's, though he skipped the "three or four hours" of heating during which one must add the eggs "drop by drop."
"Col. Welch in Tucson must have had servants," George suggested in a recent e-mail to me.
Some other research I did suggests that this may be the same Col. Welch of the U.S. Air Force who was once mixed up in a UFO sighting in the 1950s. Draw your own conclusions.
But even when mixed at room temperature at George instructed, his modified version remains true down to the original's mention that it "keeps indefinitely."
Curiously, though, the instructions for the original concluded, "When serving, the eggnog can be thinned with milk, cream or water."
Some faint of heart folks would suggest that "can" be replaced with "should under all conceivable circumstances." But not me.
Some legendary holiday beasts should never be slain.
My Uncool Past
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