The View From Faraway Farm: 700 years and still going strong

One of my favorite holiday beverages is eggnog. As much as I like it, my beat-up old stomach can't enjoy it with alcohol, but you can't have everything you want. This traditional beverage had dropped off in popularity some years ago but has since made a huge comeback, to the point where there were eggnog shortages for the 2016 holidays. Hopefully, that won't be the case in 2017. I found some at my local supermarket two weeks before Thanksgiving, and it should be on the shelves until sometime in early January. This eight-week availability does not seem to slow my expanding waistline each year at this time.

Where the heck did the name eggnog come from? Professor Frederick Douglas Opie at Babson College wrote that Colonial era slang words were the inspiration for the name. Back in those days, folks called rum "grog," served in what bartenders called "noggins' or little wooden mugs. The drink was first called egg-n-grog, which morphed into eggnog. As always, others dispute that etymological claim, with some saying the word nog was once the Scottish word "nugg" meaning a heated ale. Regardless of naming heritage, most culinary historians agree that the actual drink was originally from a British concoction from the 13th century.

I grew up enjoying Idlenot brand eggnog, and it pretty much spoiled me for other brands. In later years I learned that one of the "secret" ingredients came from Myra Aldrich, the company matriarch. Her secret? Rum extract. There aren't any brands of eggnog out there that are quite up to snuff as far as I'm concerned. Nowadays I like the Oakhurst eggnog formulation best when I can find it.

The other traditional holiday treat that I've always enjoyed is mincemeat pie, or mince pie as we always called it in my family. Whenever I can find mincemeat pie I snap it up fast. My mom used to make some great pies, a skill she learned during WWII at the Jones and Lamson Machine Tool Company cafeteria. Her teacher at J&L was Mary LaFountain, who went on to establish the renowned Paddock Restaurant in Springfield. My mom's pies were top notch, and her mince pie was a home run every time. When heated with some good vanilla ice cream on top you just couldn't fault it. In the latter years of her life, my mom gave up baking pies for the holidays and it left a void that no one in the family has filled to my knowledge.

The thing about mincemeat pie is the name. There are lots of folks out there who are so turned off by the name that they have never tried it. My fiancee refuses to make the stuff, so if I want mincemeat pie I've got to step up and bake it myself or buy it in the store. When I manage to score some mincemeat pie she keeps her distance from it like it was made with weapons-grade plutonium.

So what is actually in mincemeat pie? It's a mixture of spices, chopped dried fruit, and venison, or sometimes beef suet. Vegetable shortening is generally used in place of suet or meat, so the "meat" in mincemeat pie is pretty much a misnomer these days. Mincemeat pie was actually influenced by spices from the middle east brought home by returning Crusaders in the 13th Century. Quince, mace, and nutmeg were among the spices used, and I suppose the unique taste of mince pie is not to the liking of everyone.

Having been brought up with it as a holiday staple here in New England is no surprise. The Puritans brought the recipe with them to the new country. If you didn't grow up in New England then there's a greater possibility that you were never exposed to it. My memories of mincemeat are all good, and I recall how much my dad enjoyed his mincemeat pie with a couple of slices of Crowley Sharp cheese direct from the factory in Mt. Holly, usually procured when we were up that way for deer season each November.

I have occasionally wondered how different a glass of eggnog and a slice of mincemeat pie would have tasted in the 1300's. Most foods have evolved along with changing tastes and influences, yet the basic recipes of eggnog and mincemeat pie, traditional holiday fare in English speaking countries since the 13th century, endure. It is amazing how these distinctive foods have maintained their popularity for 700 years.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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