Swords were drawn, windows shattered, and stairwells destroyed as the enraged mob tore through the military barracks seeking revenge. A few of their would-be victims hunkered down in their rooms, while rocks, plates, insults, and even a few bullets were fired at their locked doors. It was bedlam, madness, complete pandemonium! The rabble wanted justice, and until their demands were met, they were prepared to rage on forever.
Or at least until 6 a.m. when they had to report for parade formation.
And their night of viral vengeance? It became known as “The Eggnog Riot.” Yes, that is the name of an actual event that occurred on the campus of West Point Academy, Christmas Eve, 1826. That seemingly innocuous drink fueled a riot that resulted in fist fights, major property damage, two assaulted officers, and the eventual court-martial of 19 participating cadets, 11 of whom were ultimately expelled from the academy.
Eggnog, made from milk, eggs, and sugar, is actually a very bland beverage unless it is spiked — as it most certainly was — with plenty of alcohol. It originated from a 15th century English drink called a posset, a mixture of curdled milk and wine. Years later, eggs were added and the resulting mixture was served in wooden cups called “noggins.” From that point on, it was known as eggnog.
And it certainly wasn’t the milk, the eggs, or the sugar that caused 90 of the 260 West Point cadets, including a young Jefferson Davis, to go out of their “noggins” during a night-long riot that persisted until morning reveille. On Christmas morning, a third of West Point’s cadets came to formation in varying states of hungover dishevelment while the rest showed up rested, relaxed, and extremely confused.
West Point founder Thomas Jefferson died just five months before the Eggnog Riot and was obviously not involved in any of the decisions about courts-martial or dismissals. Had he been in charge at the time, it’s possible that the alcohol ban would never have occurred because, just like those carousing cadets, he was extremely fond of eggnog. In fact, he would frequently have students from the University of Virginia, another institution he founded, to his home at Monticello for eggnog and conversation.
One of those students was a promising young writer by the name of Edgar Allan Poe. It has been rumored that Poe attended Jefferson’s funeral, but as Poe said, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see,” and the validity of that rumor has never been authenticated. It is a fact that Poe dropped out of the University of Virginia and enlisted in the military, but two years later he managed to secure himself a position at … wait for it … West Point.
Unfortunately, Poe was extremely unhappy at West Point and spent most of his time drinking eggnog at Benny Haven’s Tavern, the very institution that supplied the spirits for the Eggnog Riot. In a final, desperate act to get himself expelled, Poe is rumored to have shown up naked and drunk (on eggnog) for parade formation.
Poe was indeed expelled — apparently eggnog and nudity don’t exactly scream “military career” — and he attended West Point nevermore. But his fondness for spiked eggnog continued for most of his remaining years and may have been a contributing factor to his untimely death.
George Washington is apparently the Kevin Bacon of all alcoholic beverages because rarely can a spirit not be traced back to this party-loving Founding Father in six degrees of separation or less. Washington loved eggnog so much and served it so frequently to his guests at Mount Vernon that he actually recorded his very own special eggnog recipe. It is included here and, in addition to the usual mixture of eggs and cream, calls for copious amounts of brandy, whisky, rum, and sherry.
Sadly, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had a falling out two years before Washington’s death and never had the opportunity to repair the damage. Jefferson apparently made some unkind remarks about Washington’s competency. Perhaps it was just the eggnog talking.
Washington and Jefferson were not the only presidents with a historic love of spiked eggnog. President Warren G. Harding’s favorite cocktail was a Tom and Jerry, an eggnog derivative traditionally served warm rather than cold. And if the name of that drink sounds familiar and you are wondering which came first, the eggnog or the mouse? The answer is the eggnog.
The Tom and Jerry cartoons were actually named after the popular 1920s cocktail, and Harding, who was president from 1921 to 1923, probably did much to contribute to that popularity. The drink was named after a Pierce Egan novel, Life in London; Or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, which might require a cocktail or two just to get past the complexity of that title. It is very confusing, especially after a couple of eggnogs. But the book came first, then the drink, and then the cartoon.
President Dwight Eisenhower, an avid chef who frequently used the White House kitchen to whip up his own culinary creations, threw his hat into the presidential eggnog ring and invented his own recorded recipe. While not quite as strong as Washington’s version, it can still pack a powerful, presidential punch. It is also included below.
You don’t have to have political aspirations to enjoy eggnog. Dec. 24, the anniversary of the Eggnog Riot, is National Eggnog Day, and the whole of December is National Eggnog Month. Many premade versions are available during the holiday season. Because the USDA requires that all egg products sold in stores be heated to kill bacteria through pasteurization, they are safe to drink. Raw eggs or eggs that have not been pasteurized come with a risk of salmonella, and while that risk is extremely minimal — according to the Food and Drug Administration only one in 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella — no such danger exists in store-bought eggnog.
Premade eggnog does not contain alcohol, so if you want a more spirited beverage, you have to add your own. A good rule of thumb is five parts store-bought eggnog to one part brandy, whiskey, or rum. If you want guests to think you made it yourself, sprinkle some cinnamon on top of each glass, smear a little bit of eggnog and cinnamon on your hands and face, and serve while complaining about how hot it got in the kitchen.
While it may seem time-efficient to use a premade version at holiday gatherings, remember that these store-bought eggnogs come packed with unappetizing preservatives. I have no idea what carrageenan, carboxymethycellulose, or cellulose gum are, but I have seen them listed on the back of several prepackaged eggnogs.
The ready-made versions also contain a lot of sugar. And while a homemade glass of eggnog is no health drink — it’s made with cream, sugar, and eggs before the alcohol is even added — you can more easily control amounts and tweak ingredients for your own personal health concerns if you make your own. Also, the store-bought varieties are usually only available during the Christmas holidays, so if you want to raise a glass of eggnog on George Washington’s birthday in February, you are going to have to head into the kitchen.
The FDA recommends that you use only clean, uncracked eggs that have been refrigerated and cook the egg mixtures to a temperature of 160 degrees F or higher. If you are making a recipe that does not require cooking the eggs, like the two presidential versions included here, it is recommended that you use only pasteurized eggs or pasteurized egg products. Pasteurized eggs are a little harder to find and tend to be a bit more expensive than unpasteurized eggs, but nothing kills the holiday spirit quite like a nasty bacterial infection, so it’s worth the extra effort.
Making your own eggnog really isn’t that difficult. Breathing in the delicious aroma of milk, sugar, and eggs cooking together as you watch the mixture slowly take shape is actually a very soothing, comforting experience that can help offset the stress brought on by the holidays. Just be sure to keep your stovetop at a medium-low temperature and stir continuously to avoid curdling because whatever the opposite of soothing, comforting feelings are, looking at a ruined batch of curdled eggnog will certainly invoke it.
And make enough for everyone, because a shortage of eggnog? That could cause a riot.
Just the smell of milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg simmering on the stove could attract a mob, so make sure you have plenty of this creamy delicious eggnog on hand for guests. This recipe only calls for egg yolks, which may lead you to wonder: what does one do with all the leftover egg whites? I suggest making spiced cocktail nuts, egg white omelets or frittatas, angel food cake, or any type of meringue cookie or pie. Rioters do less damage when they are properly fed!
6 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups milk
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup bourbon, other whiskey, or rum (optional)
Ground cinnamon for topping
Put egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture is creamy, then set aside. Combine milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a saucepan, place over medium to low heat and stir until the mixture comes to a low boil. Remove from heat and carefully add a spoonful of the milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture with one hand while continuously whisking the egg mixture with the other. This will keep the egg yolks from curdling. Keep whisking and add more and more of the hot cream mixture into the egg bowl until most of the hot cream is combined with the eggs. Pour all of it back into the saucepan and continuously stir over medium heat until it is slightly thick and can coat the back of a spoon (FDA suggests it reach a temperature of 160 F). Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken as it cools, so unless you want very thick eggnog, just a slight thickening is all you need here. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla, heavy cream, and, if using, bourbon, other whiskey, or rum. Pour into pitcher, cover with plastic wrap, and pop it in the fridge until fully chilled. Serve in glasses with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. It will only keep for one week, so enjoy it soon!
Tom and Jerry Eggnog Cocktail
Named after a book with a very long title and later the inspiration for the names of two cartoon characters, this was President Harding’s favorite cocktail. Harding became known for playing “cat and mouse” in both administrative affairs and in his personal life, and he sadly died in office of a sudden heart attack.
Rumors circulated that he had either committed suicide or been poisoned because the cat was out of the bag so to speak as his wife had recently learned of his “indiscretions.” However, physicians concluded that the cause of death was indeed a heart attack, and with no evidence to suggest that a cocktail or anything else was in his hand when he passed, feel free to enjoy this drink guilt-free. Just enjoy it responsibly, because there is nothing mousy about it.
Note: This recipe requires making a batter ahead of time, so plan ahead!
1 heaping tablespoons of Tom & Jerry Batter (recipe below)
1 ounce dark rum
1 ounce Cognac or other brandy
Approximately 3 ounces hot milk (or water)
Grated nutmeg for garnish
Preheat the mugs, then add the batter and 1 ounce of brandy and rum into each mug. Top with hot milk or water, stirring constantly, until frothy, garnish with grated nutmeg, and enjoy immediately. Serves 1.
Tom & Jerry Batter
6 large eggs, separated into egg whites and egg yolks (these are not cooked so the FDA recommends using pasteurized eggs)
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce dark rum
Put egg whites and egg yolks in separate bowls. Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat with a mixture until stiff peaks form. Add the butter and sugar into the egg yolk bowl and beat until well combined. With a spatula, gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites; stir in the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, and rum. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to make the cocktail. It’s best to use the batter the same day it is made, but it will last about a week in the refrigerator and longer if frozen.
This is very close to the original recipe written by George Washington, except that in this version, the actual amounts of each ingredient have been proportionally decreased. His original recipe called for an unspecified number of eggs (but historians guess that the number was probably 12), quarts of both milk and cream, and many pints of alcohol. It probably would have satisfied all of those West Point cadets back in 1826, and the Eggnog Riot might never have occurred. Also, George Washington suggests we “taste frequently” but be aware that this is a strong drink, so “taste” responsibly.
2 cups brandy
1 cup rye whisky
1 cup dark rum
½ cup sherry
4 cups heavy cream
4 cup milk
6 eggs, separated (these are not cooked so the FDA recommends using pasteurized eggs)
Mix the liquors first, then separate yolks and whites of 6 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, and mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in a cool place for several days. Taste frequently.
Please note: While Washington writes “set in a cool place,” please know that today, that means to cover it tightly, put it in your refrigerator, and chill well before serving. It will keep for about a week. You may want to add some whipped cream or ground cinnamon on top when serving to make it look more festive.
I Like Ike’s Eggnog
When he wasn’t defeating Nazis, signing the 1957 Civil Rights Act and other legislation creating an interstate highway systemand admitting American states into the Union, President Eisenhower liked to tinker in the kitchen. His recipe is straightforward, just like the man himself. He seemed very concerned that you not make this eggnog too thick — I get the feeling he had a bad experience with some overly thick eggnog. The icebox he mentions is the refrigerator, not your freezer. And you’ll be left with 12 egg whites, so again, consider making spiced cocktail nuts, egg white omelets or frittatas, angel food cake, or any type of meringue cookie or pie.
1 dozen egg yolks (these are not cooked so the FDA recommends using pasteurized eggs)
1 pound granulated sugar (regular sugar is fine)
1 quart bourbon (you can substitute brandy or rum here. Ike won’t mind.)
1 quart coffee cream (which is what they called half-and-half back then.)
1 quart whipping cream
Put the dozen egg yolks in an electric mixer. Feed in the granulated sugar very slowly as to get a completely smooth, clear light mixture. When this is perfectly smooth, begin to add the bourbon very slowly. Add one quart of coffee cream.
Put the whole thing in the ice box until a half hour before serving, at which time the whipping cream should be beaten until only moderately thick. Be careful not to get it too thick. Mix it slowly into the mixture and serve with nutmeg.