When my Grandma Bertie was growing up in coastal North Carolina about 100 years ago, she dutifully wrote down recipes from her mother, her aunts, and the ladies of the town. Even though she went away to college – uncommon for the time – she brought along her recipe book and kept adding to it for the rest of her life. My aunt recently shared the book with me. This hand-scrawled culinary chronicle of my grandmother’s life took her from Little Washington, N.C. to Charleston, West Virginia, where she married and raised her family.
I copied down several of the recipes and brought them home to my kitchen in Boston, hoping to learn more about my grandmother and family history by making some of her favorite dishes. By the time I knew Grandma, she was a widow and didn’t cook much. She liked afternoons at the art museum or the movies better than being cooped up in her kitchen.
The New Year inspired me to start sharing her recipes, plus other recipes from my family and from historic American cookbooks. I’ll make the recipes and tell the stories behind them and I invite you to send me your old favorites from your family or other sources.
This egg nog recipe, appropriate for the New Year, is the only one that I found from my great-grandmother, Bertha. She grew up in Little Washington and met my great-grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, when he came to town to open a business. When they married, she converted to Judaism and they raised the only Jewish family in the town at the time.
My great-grandmother’s egg nog is nothing like what comes from a carton, which reminds me of paint. This version is light and fluffy, perfumed with whiskey. Her “ginger ale glasses” for serving (each one is about 8 ounces) suggests that she served the egg nog in a punch bowl. By the time the cream and egg whites are whipped, this does make about a gallon, so plan accordingly or feel free to cut the recipe in half. Cheers!
Mrs. B.L. Susman’s Egg Nog (circa 1890)
Makes 12-15 ginger ale glasses
1 dozen eggs
12 tablespoons (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
1/2 pint (1 cup) whiskey, or more as desired
Nutmeg, to taste
Add sugar to yolks of eggs. Beat well. Whip cream very thick and sweeten to taste. Whip egg whites stiff and mix egg whites and cream, whipping well together. Add whiskey to the yolks and sugar. Then add cream and whites – a dash of spice. Mix well together and add more sugar to taste.
Adapted directions (so you can more easily follow the recipe):
1. Separate the eggs, placing the whites into one large mixing bowl and the yolks in another.
2. Add the sugar to the bowl of yolks and beat until well combined.
3. Pour the cream into a third bowl. Add confectioner’s sugar to taste (I added about a tablespoon). Whip the cream until very thick.
4. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix in the whipped cream, whipping to combine well.
5. Add the whiskey to the yolk mixture and stir to combine. Fold the egg white-cream mixture into the bowl of yolks. Add a dash of ground nutmeg. Add more sugar to taste if necessary. (I did not think it needed more sugar so I left it out).
6. Mix together and ladle into individual glasses. Garnish each serving with freshly-shaved nutmeg.