It wouldn't be Christmas without eggnog

by Mary Tutwiler

Every year come December, our beloved publisher, Steve May, starts agitating during weekly staff meetings. He's looking for the big one, the story he knows will make papers fly off news stands and have The Independent's name on everyone's lips. Is it the political scandal of the year? A monster business deal? Sports facedown? Nope. He just wants us to do an eggnog issue.

We collectively groan, and me, the food writer has to squirm while I get singled out for denying Steve, once again, his beloved nog.

Not this year. My daughter, Eleanor, who loves tradition, emailed my sister-in-law, Ann Carrington, asking for the family eggnog recipe.

For nearly 25 years, we booked it up to Lexington, Virg., every Christmas for a family gathering with my husband Cabell's parents. While Cabell claims Virginia is the heart of the South, it's damn cold up there in December. So cold, that every year when we arrived, the eggnog had already been made and stored in Mason jars in the garage, where it aged properly in the frigid temperatures. Actually sometimes it got too cold and we had to haul the eggnog inside so it wouldn't freeze.

Eggnog is serious stuff in Lexington. Every household has its own recipe and of course claims it is the best. We would make lots of Christmas stops over the course of the week, visiting all of Cabell's childhood friends, their parents, grandparents, old teachers, neighbors -  basically, everybody in the small town of Lexington. We drank a lot of nog.

My kids grew up getting tipsy on eggnog, they always though it was some sort of liquid dessert. Cabell would invariably put his cup on the floor by his chair and the dog would lap it up. Sometimes, during the many trips to the garage to get a jar, it would wind up on the roof of the car parked nearest to the kitchen door, and in the morning Cabell's dad would drive off with a Mason jar precariously rolling around until it fell into a snowbank when he turned the corner onto Lee Avenue. (Right, General Robert E.) Someone would find it, unharmed, walking home from the post office, and bring it back.

After Cabell's parents passed away, his sister moved to Maine and there was no more family house to return to. We started having Christmas here in Louisiana. We made eggnog once or twice, but it's just not the same in our warm muggy climate. No need for the extra calories of eggs and cream, we drink our Christmas toasts the way my New Orleans parents have always done, with Sazaracs, the nice balance of rye whiskey, Pechaud bitters, absinthe and lemon peel is a zesty way to start off the evening's festivities.

But Eleanor persists in imbibing her heritage. Here is Ann Carrington's letter, and the family recipe:

Cousin Binnie was a wonderful old lady when I knew her, with white hair up in a bun and twinkly blue eyes. She had a great sense of humor and used to write me poems between visits to us in Lexington. I think I still have her letters, which were really delightful! She took the place of a mother for my mother, as her real mother died when she was only 10 or 11. That was a terribly hard time for the whole family. But Cousin Binnie and Mammy did their best to keep things going. Egg Nog "Cousin Binnie" (Lavinia) Higginbotham 28 eggs, separated and beaten until yolks are light and whites firm 2 lb. powdered sugar 2 fifths French brandy 1 fifth Jamaica rum 3 pints whipping cream Beat sugar and egg yolks together in a huge bowl. Add liquor very, very gradually at first to prevent curdling. Pour in whipped whipping cream. Lastly, fold in the beaten egg whites (You need an electric mixer, a big one, to do this! Be sure to wash and dry it thoroughly between beating the cream and the egg whites.) Reduced Amount 12 eggs 1 lb. powdered sugar 1 qt. French brandy 1 pt. whisky 1½ pints whipping cream Beat egg yolks until light. Add sugar. Add brandy gradually; then whisky. Add whipped cream, and fold in beaten egg whites.

I'm not sure why from the big batch to the smaller one the liquor changes from rum to whiskey. And there's no directions for putting the eggnog out in the garage, which probably in Cousin Binnie's day would have been the carriage house. Perhaps the coachman would have gotten too deep in his cups had he had that sort of temptation.

So here's to Steve May, who wants the best for Lafayette, including the best eggnog. Now it's up to you, dear readers, to ask Steve what recipe he drinks when the eggnog urge is upon him come Christmas Eve. That's too deep a secret for me to reveal.