Stories of my childhood Christmas Eve celebrations, include telling of mom ladling her homemade eggnog into each of our “Tom and Jerry” mugs. She would dust each one with a bit of nutmeg, and then as we delightedly each held our own, we would raise them; giving a toast for blessings in the coming year and best wishes for all. We continued this tradition even when it was just mom and me. The only change was dad had favored Southern Comfort in his eggnog and mom favored Sherry.

Whether positive or negative, eggnog is a beverage which invokes high reactions when introduced into a conversation. I once read it described as “Pancake batter with alcohol, served as a beverage”. That’s a bit harsh. Clearly the writer was not an eggnog fan. I understand. Ask me what I think about shepherd’s pie.

I favor homemade eggnog. I use raw eggs, cream fresh off a local farm, and raw cane sugar. For spiking, I use a combination of rum, cognac, and bourbon. If you want homemade eggnog to be decadently creamy, whip the eggs until thick and a pale lemon color. Next, slowly beat in the sugar. Whisk in the milk, cream and choice of alcohol. For best results, make eggnog a day or two in advance so the flavors can meld. For serving, just before guests arrive, pour the mixture into a punch bowl. Top with smooth, whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg. Now you know all of my secrets. Or at least that one.

Commercial eggnog is generally, stickily thick and tasteless, with very little egg. To be called eggnog, only 1.0 percent of its contents is required to be egg yolk solids. Most often cheap ingredients like carrageenan, guar gum and sugar are substituted for taste and cream deliciousness. One can always dress it up with flavorings and top off with fresh whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg. Organic Valley and Horizon come close to tasting homemade. However, Horizon tastes oddly like banana. There are many non-dairy options, but if it’s non-dairy is it eggnog? There are fruity versions, too, but then, doesn’t that make it a smoothie?

Having grown up in a region of America where eggs and milk were always plentiful, I have always assumed eggnog to be a beverage with a long history of being used by everyone when raising a Christmas toast. I could not be more wrong. Eggnog has roots back to the 14th century, but not because it was a cheap beverage for the purpose of celebrating Christmas. Eggnog has its origins in a version called “posset”. This was a hot, winter beverage cocktail made without eggs. Eventually, the egg-laden version was adopted, although, the name “eggnog” wasn’t coined until well into the 18th century. I have wondered how someone thought a mixture of egg, milk, and alcohol was a good idea. I’m glad they did.

In England, the popularity of this new drink didn’t last long, but not because of its consistency or flavor. Eggs and milk were scarce in winter, making both ingredients a luxury. Sherry and Madeira, favored for spiking, were also expensive. The drink became affordable only by the aristocracy who could afford land on which to raise chickens and cows. To this day, it has not regained popularity with our friends across the pond.

How could eggnog gain popularity in America with settlers who had very little? America had opportunities for raising plenty of chickens and cows for the two main eggnog ingredients. Early American bartenders served it cold with rum, ale, whiskey, brandy, and wine as customary choices. Based on the large volume of alcohol used in eggnog recipes at the time, the emphasis was on quantity, not flavor, so the choice of alcohol wasn’t that important. It wouldn’t take more than a serving for anyone to care less about which spiking ingredient was used.

In 2010, CNN, the popular news network, shared this anecdote gleaned from Good Housekeeping (1900). “So religiously is this custom of the eggnog drinking observed that Judge Garnett of Mathews County (Virginia) tells a story of rushing in on Christmas morning to warn his father that the house was on fire. The old gentleman first led his son to the breakfast table and ladled out his glass of eggnog, drank one with him, then went to care for the burning building.”

I probably wouldn’t stop to drink eggnog and let my home burn, but I might consider snagging it from the refrigerator on my way out.

(Use caution in consuming raw eggs, due to slight risk of salmonella or other food borne illness. Use fresh eggs with intact shells. Studies suggest refrigerated, spiked eggnog that sits for a few days or more, allows the alcohol to kill bacteria – http://www.forbes.com/sites/nadiaarumugam/2013/12/20/why-aged-eggnog-made-with-raw-eggs-is-safer-than-drinking-it-fresh. Use shell eggs which have been treated to destroy salmonella.)