Slainte: Holiday Cheer
A family recipe for eggnog that’s smooth as liquid silk, and kicks like a country mule
Once upon a time, when the year-end holidays rolled around, no one outdid me in the celebration staging arena. Beginning Thanksgiving weekend, I made dozens of fruitcakes (heavily doused with Irish whiskey and drenched weekly thereafter) and hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cookies. On the Big Days themselves I laid the table with Mom’s heirloom Irish linen and crystal, and cooked Crown Roasts of Pork, Standing Beef Rib Roasts, gargantuan Turkeys, and hefty Hams plus an eclectic assortment of baked, pureed and roasted veggies, and desserts that ranged from obligatory Plum Pudding and Pumpkin Pie to more exotic Cranberry Walnut Tart and Raspberry Sherry Trifle. While the sideboard held a variety of spirits to whet the appetite and finish the meal, nothing was ever more in demand than the seasonal special: rich, creamy, frothy, heady Eggnog.
Decades down the track I’ve learned it’s not necessary to stage the whole shebang oneself and now gladly (gratefully) participate in ‘group’ dinners where each person prepares a specialty. I still make desserts, but the finest Eggnog I’ve ever sipped is concocted by my dear pal Char’s dear man Terrell from a family recipe that goes back generations, is smooth as liquid silk, and kicks like a country mule.
The wallop packed by Terrell’s sublime holiday punch derives from a liberal lacing of Rum, Brandy, and Bourbon, potables rarely thought of as ‘Irish.’ In truth the trio have been linked for centuries to Ireland’s distilling tradition, the products of which have always been so outstanding as to prompt the 16th-century writer Fynes Moryson to dub Irish whiskey ‘the best drink of its kind in the world.’
Of the three spirits in Terrell’s terrific Eggnog, Rum has the most extraordinary Irish connection. While the Boston Tea Party response to Britain’s tax on tea is often thought to have been the spark that ignited the American Revolution, the real reason was rum. Actually, it was Caribbean molasses, a by-product of sugar refining, that New England’s Irish colonists distilled to rum, the preferred drink of our Founding Fathers. It wasn’t as fine a product as that which the British made from sugar grown in their West Indies islands, but the British refused to share their molasses with their colonies. Growers in the French West Indies, whose tastes ran more to wine and brandy anyhow, had no problem supplying Bostonian rum makers with the key ingredient. This commerce did not sit at all well with England, which was engaged in fighting France for control of North America, but it was so profitable for both France and America that to insure its continuance the French gladly fought side-by-side with the colonists in the Revolution.
Brandy’s association with Ireland is clearer. Since whenever my dad bought Brandy it could only be Hennessy, I should have deduced there was an Irish link despite its French connection. Originally based near Kilbegan in County Offaly, with the arrival of the Normans in 1170, the O hAonghusa sept scattered to Limerick, Tipperary, and Cork. In 1720, Richard Hennessy was born in Ballymacmoy House near Mallow; in 1740, he shipped off to France where he served as an officer in Dillon’s Irish Regiment in the French Army; in 1765, he settled in Cognac and founded the distillery where his Irish-French descendants produce world famous Hennessy brandy yet today.
Amid Dad’s small cache of Bushmill’s and Hennessy there always stood a bottle of Bourbon, America’s own corn-based native spirit. Its origin of which can be traced to our earliest Scots-Irish immigrants who settled in Western Pennsylvania and applied Ireland’s ancient distilling methods to small rye harvests eked from the newly cleared wilderness. Shortly after the Revolution, in a move to bolster America’s fledgling treasury, the Continental Congress attempted to levy a tax on the meager whiskey production. The move was so poorly received by men who had just fought a bloody revolution caused by rampant English taxes that it spawned the infamous Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794).
Sending in the Army to put down the revolt proved fruitless, so President George Washington together with Thomas Jefferson (then Governor of Virginia) made the tough Scots-Irish an offer they couldn’t refuse. Any rye whiskey makers who would relocate to Virginia’s western Kentucky region would be freely given huge 60-acre land parcels, but only if they agreed to devote their farming efforts exclusively to native corn. In short order, the canny Scots-Irish switched their whiskey-making efforts from scanty Old World rye harvests to copious yields of America’s own golden grain. With a nod to the French who had helped win the Revolution, the county and the local brew were both named Bourbon.
By happy coincidence, Terrell not only has Irish blood flowing in his veins but also has roots that reach way back in Virginia history. Coming from a farming heritage, a ready supply of milk and eggs flowed freely from family henhouses and pastures. Coupled with the Virginian colonial penchant for pre-dinner Rum, postprandial Brandy, and post-Revolution affection for Bourbon, the Chisholm-Hasker Family Eggnog recipe was born. Suffice it to say the mere thought of swigging a glassful or two (okay, three) – plus the pleasure of feasting with friends of course – will easily convince me to drive an hour-plus on holiday-busy Los Angeles freeways.
Glass, however, is not a vessel worthy enough to hold such a heavenly elixir. Only a classic crystal tumbler will do. In this category too, Ireland triumphs, with many of the finest examples produced by illustrious Waterford Crystal. A few years ago, while visiting Clohamon House (Bunclody, County Wexford), proprietress Lady Maria Levinge, who was born and raised in Waterford Castle, regaled me with stories of castle ghosts, rain-sodden rowboat rides across the river that surrounds her island birthplace, and the history of the region’s world famous crystal.
Archeological digs have shown that the Iron Age Celts traded in glass beads and trinkets, and medieval documents record that Irish glass-making techniques were thriving as early as the 13th century. In 1771, Ireland’s first crystal factory opened in Dungannon, County Tyrone, where excellent crystal is made yet today. The Irish Crystal industry surged, however, in 1793 when two brothers – George and William Penrose – opened a crystal-making business in Waterford city and manufactured a product of such clarity, pure clear color, and exquisite design that it was unrivaled by any other manufacturer in Europe.
For one hundred years ships sailed from the busy port laden with cargoes of exquisite Penrose crystal bound for tables of the rich and powerful in New York, New England, Canada, Spain, and the West Indies. In mid 19th century, however, a combination of under-capitalization, excessive taxation, and the Great Famine’s mass emigration of workers and artisans drove the Penrose Glass Company into bankruptcy. A century passed before a group of businessmen banded together and revived the endeavor.
Today, with classic designs that date from the original Waterford artisans and new motifs developed by a modern crop of highly skilled cutters, the Waterford Crystal brand is recognized globally as the world’s leading producer of fine crystal.
Nothing so complements the beauty of a fresh cut floral bouquet as sunlight glinting off the facets of an Irish crystal vase. Nothing is so proper a receptacle for a measure of fine Irish whiskey as a weighted tumbler of glittering Irish crystal that fits neatly into the palm of one’s hand. And nothing is so majestic at a holiday celebration as a table set with fine Irish linen and dazzling Irish crystal filled to the brim with the season’s top-rated tipple: rich, creamy, frothy, heady Eggnog. Sláinte!
2 quarts whole milk
1 quart cream
1 quart Bourbon
1 pint Dark Rum
1/2 pint Brandy
1 dozen eggs
1 cup sugar
Nutmeg to taste
Separate eggs. Beat yolks; add sugar; beat well. Slowly drizzle whiskey into egg mixture, stirring constantly. Slowly add rum, then brandy. Add milk and cream. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold egg whites into liquid mixture. Refrigerate several days or at least overnight to ripen. Stir before serving to recombine ingredients. Serve with a sprinkling of nutmeg on top. NOTE: This recipe calls for raw eggs, which not everyone can eat. The quantities specified make Eggnog for a crowd; recipe can be halved. The Chisholm-Hasker Family Eggnog Recipe (courtesy Martha Cosby Chisholm Hasker)