Monday, December 20, 2010
I was going to post my reading list a few weeks ago but then I got busy again and never got around to it. But if I had, one of the books listed would have been The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book. This is a UNC Press title that caught my eye while I was working on their database, and then I ran across it in a used bookstore when my parents were in town in October and picked up a copy.
The reason I was interested in it in the first place was mainly for the last chapter on housekeeping and home remedies. (I make homemade cleaning products and am currently interested in historical trends in housekeeping; more on that coming soon…)
But I decided to read the whole thing, not just the last chapter, and it’s pretty interesting. I learned some history that I probably should have known in the first place but didn’t — like for instance that Arlington National Cemetery was built on land that belonged to the family of Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Custis, who was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson through her first husband, who was raised by George and Martha Washington after his father died when he was an infant. The land was basically taken from them during the Civil War, and the case ended up in the Supreme Court and the Lee/Custis family prevailed, but by that time there were 40,000 graves on the property so they didn’t really want it back. (I used to live across the street from Arlington Cemetery, so I think this was especially interesting to me.)
One of the things that’s kind of funny is all the asides about who was who and who they were related to — everyone is related to everyone else and half of the people have the same name, so even if you wanted to, I’m not sure you’d be able to keep track of it. It totally reminds me of Florence King in Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady talking about her Grandmother tracing the family’s genealogy, that’s all I kept thinking of.
Um, okay, this is fascinating. What does it have to do with egg nog?
The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book has a recipe for egg nog that the author said was really great, and it called for brandy rather than bourbon, which is what I usually see in egg nog recipes and I don’t particularly care for bourbon so the idea of making egg nog has never appealed to me. But for some reason this recipe sounded really good and I decided I would make it for the Scrap Exchange Holiday Party.
So I made it last week and it was AMAZING.
I can totally see why there are commercial versions of egg nog, but I think it’s basically a Chips Ahoy thing — chocolate chip cookies are so good that people tried to figure out how you could have them all the time without having to go through the trouble of making them, and they did come up with something that can technically be called a chocolate chip cookie, but it’s really not the same thing. Eating a Chips Ahoy cookie is nothing like eating a homemade chocolate chip cookie, and drinking commercial egg nog is nothing like drinking the homemade version.
Homemade egg nog is definitely worth the trouble.
It does have raw eggs in it, so I made sure I warned people of that, and I got the eggs from the farmer’s market figuring I’d be less likely to kill anyone that way.
It was a little bit of a tough sell in the beginning — I’d ask people if they wanted egg nog and they’d decline saying they didn’t like egg nog. When I told them it was homemade, they got interested, and once a few people tried it and tasted how good it was, it started going fast. (Though maybe that was just me standing there drinking all of it, I’m not sure.)
I looked at a bunch of different recipes and they’re all similar, though with slightly different combinations of alcohol (bourbon, whiskey, brandy, rum) and milk (cream, milk, half-and-half). I think it probably doesn’t matter that much, you can adjust to suit your taste and any of them will be good.
Here’s the recipe from the book.
Mrs. Letcher’s Egg Nog
Mrs. Letcher’s Egg Nog, made with whatever kind of milk, requires black rum and ripening. This latter technique, practiced in Mrs. Tyree’s time, was one of the keys to the best-ever eggnog made by an uncle of mine; he left it outside, covered and isolated on an upstairs porch “as long as the people will stay away.” Instead, leave this five days or so in the refrigerator, where it mellows; the alcohol preserves the eggs and cream.
[original recipe from the family notebook]
Beat the yolks of 10 eggs very light add 1 lb of sugar — stir in slowly two tumblers of French brandy — 1/4 tumbler of rum — add 2 qts new milk — & last the whites beaten light
[standardized and tested version of the recipe, from Anne Carter Zimmer, the book's author (and great-granddaughter of Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis Randolph Lee).]
10 eggs, separated
2 c. sugar
2 1/4 cup brandy
1/4 c. + 1 T dark rum
8 c. (1/2 gallon) milk or part half-and-half, part cream
Beat the egg yolks until light then stir in all but 1/2 cup sugar. Add liquors and milk, taste, and add part or all of reserved sugar, according to sweetness desired. Beat egg whites until light and fold into nog. Ripen (see above). Makes 4 to 5 quarts.
My friend Cathy made egg nog for her office party a few years ago and I remembered her saying it was great so I also got her mom’s recipe and that calls for folding in a pint of whipped cream in the end. I did start to do that but decided it was going to be totally over the top so I just put in a little bit and called it a day. Here’s the Karr family recipe:
Holiday Egg Nog
12 (pasteurized) eggs
1 and 1/2 c. sugar
1 qt. milk
1 qt. half and half
2 c. whiskey
1 c. rum
1 pt. heavy whipping cream
–BEAT egg yolks with 1 c. sugar until very light.
–BEAT egg whites until very stiff. BEAT in 1/2 c. sugar.
–Combine yolks and whites, and BEAT thoroughly.
–Add milk to eggs and BEAT thoroughly.
–Add half and half and BEAT thoroughly.
–Add whiskey and BEAT thoroughly.
–Add rum and BEAT thoroughly.
–WHIP cream and fold in gently.
–Ladle into containers making certain that froth is evenly distributed.
–Store in a cool place at least one week.
–Shake well periodically.
I basically followed the instructions from Cath — I beat beat beat everything (I do not have a stand mixer; I used an electric hand mixer) and it was very light and fluffy. I beat the egg whites until I could hold the bowl upside down and they wouldn’t fall out. (My mom told me when I made an angel food cake for her birthday that this is the general guideline for beating egg whites stiff. For anyone who’s never done it before, just so you know, it takes a long time to beat egg whites stiff — maybe 10 minutes. You go for so long with nothing happening that you wonder if your eggs are defective and it isn’t going to work. But eventually they come around.)
For the milk/cream, I used 6 cups of whole milk, 2 cups of low-fat (2%) milk and 2 cups of light cream, and for the liquor I used 2-1/4 cups brandy and 1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum.
Note that it requires a really big bowl for mixing. I happen to have a giant bowl; not sure what I would have done if I didn’t. Having something to put it in is also not something to overlook; I poured into an empty plastic gallon jug I had around, and glass milk bottles I held onto from my recent milk purchases.
I made it on Tuesday and served it Friday night. I do think sitting a few days makes it much better. And it was really good.