Sunday, December 26, 2021

Egg Nog - setting the story straight

George Washington personally wrote the following recipe? "...fold slowly into mixture... Taste frequently." No. Another false claim is that a travellor wrote in 1796 that egg nog was served at breakfast in City Tavern, Phila. No, in Maryland. Thanks to the internet, WAY too many bloggers and book authors are blindly passing these modern tales on.

George Washington's recipe for Egg Nog?
George Washington's Christmas Eggnog
One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

Let's clear this up quickly. It's wrong. Not a recipe of that period. And not in Washington's collected writings. Mary Thompson of Mount Vernon has said, repeatedly, they had no egg nog recipe from him. In fact, the furtherest I traced it was... 1989 from The Old Farmer's Almanac by a writer in Hawaii. Or possibly from Harnett T Kane's Southern Christmas Book, 1958. Since only a 'snippet view' of the Almanac and none for Kane are on Google books, I didn't want to post until I saw the whole book. But after waiting several years already, when I do get back to the Library of Congress, it will not be to chase down these obviously false claims. So I am posting now.

Since I started this draft years ago, the claim that the recipe was written by George Washington has been replaced on The Old Farmer's Almanac website, which was interesting, because it was in their printed Almanac in the 1980s: "Courtesy of Dick O'Donnell, Honolulu, Hawaii." I had sent him an email (he has moved from Hawaii) but no response where he found the recipe.

... Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently." Courtesy of Dick O'Donnell

Isaac Weld (1774 Dublin-1856), Egg-nog and City Tavern

In a February 1796 letter Weld wrote about his trip from Baltimore to Philadelphia. At the end of January an intense cold snap froze the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers, but five days later he started his trip. After describing the egg nog, he details their crossing the icy Susquehanna River. I found no mention of City Tavern when he arrived in Phila. The following happened while still in Maryland, just north of Baltimore and below the Susquehanna -

Several travellers had stopped at the same house that I did the first night I was on the road, and we all breakfasted together preparatory to setting out the next morning. The American travellers, before they pursued their journey, took a hearty draught each, according to custom, of egg-nog, a mixture composed of new milk, eggs, rum, and sugar, beat up together;

Weld, Isaac. Travels through the states of North America: and the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada during the years 1795, 1796, and 1797. London: 1800 4th ed. page 81 HERE

Christmas in the South - Egg Nog Party 1870
Egg nog for Christmas, New Year's Eve, Twelfth Night. It was a Southern tradition to set a tub of egg nog on the porch for 12 days for visitors - from Christmas until Twelfth-night, as related in an 1869 story. HERE

Blog posts on egg nog HERE

*Washington taking leave of the officers of his army: at Francis's Tavern, Broad Street, New York, Decr. 4th. 1783 litho, 1848. Library of Congress
*Tavern from Trollope, Frances Milton. Domestic Manners of the Americans. London: (1832) 1836
*"Christmas in the South - Egg Nog Party" from Harper's Weekly, Dec. 31, 1870.


©2021 Patricia Bixler Reber
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