Safely store-bought or home-aged at your own risk, eggnog is a seasonal must.
IF YOU’RE LIKE most people, eggnog doesn’t scare you. It comes in an innocuous carton, from the cold case—or, if you’re lucky, from one of the Seattle farmers markets where Golden Glen Creamery hawks its own delicious version.
But my family is not most people. We make our own eggnog.
A couple days ago, I made this year’s batch from the same recipe we always use: a dozen eggs, some half–and–half, a quart of dark rum, a cup of cognac, and a metric shit–ton of sugar. We start with yolks from the freshest local eggs we can find because the deeper the yolk color, the prettier and richer the eggnog. (Skagit River Ranch, whose products are sold at the University District and Ballard farmers markets, is my go–to source; the eggs are laid the day before they hit the market, whereas most regular grocery store eggs are laid about three weeks before going on sale.) The yolks get pummeled together with the sugar until pale and thick, then the combo is spiked with the liquors and the cream, and finally lightened with whipped whites. The nog starts off looking like satin sheets in liquid form, but actually tastes like something I once regretted drinking at a frat party. So, per the family tradition, we age it.
Traditionally we mix it up around Thanksgiving to be consumed around Christmas. For the intervening month, it mellows and matures in a crock—two crocks, usually, because daily taste testing necessitates doubling the recipe if we want to end up with enough for a crowd.
Here’s where it gets scary: We age it, unrefrigerated on the floor of the garage. But this time of year, it’s cold in the garage. At least that’s what I always tell myself, when I pop out for the ritual late–evening stir–and–taste. And as I ladle a bit into my glass, I say a sort of prayer to the eggnog gods: I wish I may, I wish I might, have no brush with salmonella tonight.
You know what? I never do. And so far, neither has anyone else. According to Scott Meschke, an assistant professor of environmental health at UW, the booze might actually help ward off the bugs. “Based on an estimated final concentration of about 20 percent alcohol by volume, you would likely have conditions that were at least somewhat bacteriostatic [i.e., inhibiting growth] but not actually bacteriocidal,” says Meschke.
In other words, even though the likelihood of illness is quite small, I can’t recommend my family’s nog brew to you sans disclaimer: The very young, old, and pregnant should steer clear of raw eggs. And just to be on the safe side, I’m sharing a recipe from cocktail chef extraordinaire Kathy Casey, who stores her nog in controlled temperatures. Me, I’ll be sticking with the garage method. There’s just something satisfyingly old fashioned—not to mention wonderfully rebellious—about leaving a raw egg slurry in one’s garage for a month, and then drinking it. C’mon over. It’s almost ready.