Nothing says Christmas quite like a spiced holiday drink to warm your insides. In November, I set out to explore the options, and in the end settled upon the most traditional of holiday drinks. Sure, there are always new cocktails being invented but a Wassail, Swedish Glogg, Classic Eggnog and Hot Buttered Rum will always scream Christmas no matter what the latest trends may be.
Eggnog’s origins are murky, and some claim it as an American invention, which surprised me as I had always assumed it was an English drink. Yet other sources connect it to England. “While culinary historians debate its exact lineage, most agree eggnog originated from the early medieval Britain “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. By the 13th century, monks were known to drink a posset with eggs and figs. Milk, eggs, and sherry were foods of the wealthy, so eggnog was often used in toasts to prosperity and good health.” (Time)
Eggnog became popular in the colonial era and quickly became associated with the Christmas holiday being especially popular in Virginia and surrounding states. Often prepared Christmas morning for the family to enjoy, it was also a welcome drink for holiday visitors. A non-alcoholic version appeared around prohibition time and its popularity dwindled thereafter. Today, you can find eggnog in the grocery store, but it’s a far cry from the real thing. I didn’t like eggnog as a child, but I had never tasted a from-scratch recipe until now and, wow, there’s nothing like homemade – but isn’t that true for most things? Homemade eggnog is delicious with or without the alcohol. My kids described the non-alcoholic version as a deliciously seasoned custard delight.
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp vanilla
Optional: cinnamon stick for garnish, whisky/bourbon/rum to taste, whipped cream
Whisk egg yolks and sugar together. Over medium/high heat combine cream, milk, and spices, salt – stir and bring to a simmer. Temper eggs by very slowly adding the hot milk to the egg mixture while whisking vigorously. Once most of the milk has been added, return to the pan and heat and whisk until it begins to thicken (160 degrees). Add the vanilla and whisky, if desired. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve; whisking it in the strainer will help it along. Serve warm or cover and refrigerate if making ahead. It can be stored up to a week. Makes about 4 servings.
A colonial era drink, Hot Buttered Rum was “Initially prescribed for its medicinal value in aiding hoarseness of voice, the drink was agreeable enough to be consumed recreationally.” (Oxford Companion, 364). I first tasted Hot Buttered Rum after sailing in a Penguin frostbite regatta in November. After enduring the bitter cold wind on my face and the sting of frigid water – this drink was a godsend and I immediately fell in love with it. If you are chilled to the bone, nothing will warm you up better. Add a cinnamon stick for garnish and it echoes a Christmas spirit.
Hot Buttered Rum
1 stick butter (4 oz.)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp each, ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg & allspice
dash of salt
1.5 oz. dark rum (I used Goslings dark rum)
Combine everything but the rum and hot water in a mixer, cream and blend well. For an individual drink combine 2 Tbs of spiced butter mixture, rum, and 6 oz hot water in a mug. For a batch, combine all of the butter mixture with 6 oz rum and 24 oz of hot water. Adjust to your tastes. Makes about 4 servings. Doubling or tripling the recipe makes it just right for a crockpot and a small crowd.
Similar to German Gluhwein, Swedish Glogg is made from a base of red wine. What sets it apart, as Swedish-born bartender Joanna Robinson tells me, is the aquavit or rum and the condiments that go with it. Glogg is a drink and a snack, and I love this. As a snack and a drink, it also pairs well with dried cherries, clementine slices and dark chocolate.
1 bottle of dry full bodied red wine
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
fresh ginger – slicing about 1 inch into thin rounds
10 whole cloves
10 cardamom pods, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
golden raisins, blanched almonds
4 oz aquavit (rum works well too)
Start by removing the peel from the orange. Place the strips into a pan and squeeze all the juice from the orange into the pan. Crush the cloves and cardamom pods (I used a mortar and pestle). Mix all ingredients in the saucepan (minus the snacks and aquavit). Bring to a simmer, cover and remove from heat. Let it steep on the stove for 2 to 4 hours. Pour through fine strainer. If making ahead, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. When ready to serve, rewarm to almost a simmer and add the aquavit and golden raisins. Serve warm with raisins and blanched almonds in the bottom of the mug. Remember to keep it under a simmer and definitely don’t boil – that will cause the alcohol to evaporate! An alternative to the recipe above is one that Joanna’s mother makes using the same ingredients but using one quarter vodka or rum and three quarters red wine.
My mother sang me the wassailing song growing up and I never realized it referred to a drink until I was well into my forties. “Here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green…” This is a favorite drink of mine because it tastes delicious with or without the booze. On a brisk Halloween day, I made the non-alcoholic version, and everyone enjoyed it very much. My kids say it takes like apple pie.
Wassailing has a rich history rooted in tradition. “The popular carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’ are two cultural survivors offering clues to some of the ways people celebrated Christmas in the past. Advent, a time of fasting, was observed from the 1st to the 24th of December. Christmas would then last 12 days, ending with feasting and revels on the 5th of January – the eve of Epiphany in the Christian calendar – with wassailing a key part of the celebrations. Historically, wassailing took many different forms, depending on local tradition. Revelers typically visited local orchards and fruit trees, sang songs, made a hullabaloo (often by banging pots and pans) and were rewarded by the orchard’s grateful owner with some form of warm, spiced alcoholic drink from a communal wassail bowl or cup. Sometimes a topping of apple, known as ‘lamb’s wool,’ would be added. The purpose of this hullabaloo was to ward of bad spirits for the orchards while also pleasing the spirits of the fruit trees to ensure a bountiful crop of fruit in the year ahead.” (National Trust)
1/2 gallon apple cider
2 cups orange juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 cinnamon sticks
one dozen whole cloves
one whole apple (any kind)
1/4 tsp each ground ginger and nutmeg
Optional: spiced rum (Captain Morgan works well)
Poke the whole cloves into the apple. Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer over med heat. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Turn off heat and add a rum shot to each mug last. Serve hot. The apple is a delightful treat when carved up into wedges and shared. Can be made ahead and reheated in a slow cooker. Store in the refrigerator.
For those wanting a simpler drink with the aroma of Christmas, I suggest a cup of hot Constant Comment tea. It was invented in a home kitchen about 70 years ago by Ruth Campbell Bigelow, founder of the Bigelow tea company. Its orange rinds and sweet spices always remind me of Christmas. Cheers!
Cathy Schmidt writes from Trappe where she and her husband Chef Brian Schmidt own Garden and Garnish Catering. A food explorer, Cathy loves to garden and cook from scratch.
Readings and Resources
Wondrich, David. The Oxford Companion to Sprits and Cocktails. Oxford University Press, 2022.