Monday, December 31, 2012

Notes on Egg and other Nogs.

For this final day of the year, I remind you of an old custom in some parts of Britain - a traditional cheese-begging rhyme. The practice was already old when John Brand wrote Observations on popular antiquities in 1813. He says:

In Scotland, upon the last day of the Old Year, the children go about from door to door asking for bread and cheese, which they call Nog-Money, in these words:

Get up, gude wife, and binno sweir [be not lazy]
And deal your Cakes and Cheese while you are here;
For the time will come when ye'll be dead,
And neither need your cheese nor bread.

Most of the few references to this use of the word ‘nog’ cite its use in East Anglia (Norfolk), but if the author above is correct, it was also a Scots practice.

So, for the wordsmiths amongst you, here are a few gleanings on the word ‘nog.’

The Oxford English Dictionary gives it as ‘A strong variety of beer, brewed esp. in Norfolk.’  The first reference is in 1693, but I like this one, from 1743 for its evocative description:

‘In Suffolk and Norfolk they run very much upon a light brown, or deep Amber colour'd Butt-Beer, which in the latter Place is called Nogg.’
W. Ellis London & Country Brewer III. (ed. 2) 227  

The OED has no specific reference (that I can find) to ‘nog-money, which is both frustrating and sad, not to say a little negligent of the editors.

The OED does, of course, have an entry for the ‘secondary use' of the word, in the phrase ‘egg-nog’, which it acknowledges is chiefly a U.S term. I admit to being a little surprised that the first reference to it given in 1825, and am sure there must be earlier ones to be found (perhaps a project for Christmas 2103?).

Egg-Nog: A drink in which the white and yolk of eggs are stirred up with hot beer, cider, wine, or spirits.

An American egg-nog is, of course, nothing more than an emigrant English egg-flip, which is nothing more than medieval posset, modernized and updated. All recipes evolve, after all, they are never invented at a specific and recordable moment in time, are they?

The etymology of the word ‘nog’ is said to be obscure, but the most likely suspect is that it is derived from ‘noggin,’ referring to a medieval wooden drinking mug.

I have said much on the subject of egg nogs in the past (here, for example) including its use in ice-cream (here) which may be useful to you if you have some leftover nog sitting alongside your leftover ham in your fridge.

As the recipe for the day, I give you a delightfully appropriately named beverage, which is very eggy and noggy, from the famous nineteenth century Scottish cookery book by Mistress Margaret Dodds.

Auld Man's Milk.
Beat the yolks and whites of six eggs separately. Put to the beat yolks sugar and a quart of new milk, or thin sweet cream. Add to this rum, whisky, or brandy to taste (about half a pint). Slip in the whipt whites and give the whole a gentle stir up in the china punch-bowl, in which it should be mixed. It may be flavoured with nutmeg or lemon-zest. This Highland morning-cup is nearly the egg-nog of America.
The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) by Christian Isobel Johnstone.

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