Edibles - Conjuring the season past and present

By Laura Wainwright - December 27, 2007

Eggnog is a guilty pleasure. Thank goodness it's a seasonal staple. Of course, it has too much liquor and too much cream. That's what makes it so delicious. I must admit I sample it all across the Island this time of year. From the Allen Farm's extraordinary open house in early December to the Christmas Eve tasting at Bunch of Grapes, I'll fill my tiny glass and lick the thick foam off my lips.

I no longer make eggnog every year. There are times I'm spooked by a recipe that calls for 18 egg yolks and five cups of alcohol. But when I do, I dig into my manila file of recipes and pull out this one written in my hand on a yellowed piece of paper punctuated by thumb tack holes from where it hung for a number of years on our kitchen bulletin board in Cambridge.

This is an excellent eggnog recipe. The best I've ever tasted. When I make it, word spreads and people start to drop by with much greater frequency. One friend, who shall remain nameless, comes every day until it's gone.

Eggnog
Cream, egg yolks, and rum make eggnog a decadent holiday treat. Photo by Lyla Griswold. Click photo for larger version.

The recipe came to me from my blood sister, Sarah Hubley, who got it from her mother, Julie, who got it from Agnes Sasscher of Solitude Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. Sarah and I really are blood sisters, and since the summer of 1963, when we were inseparable, I've called her B.S., and she calls me B.S.

In the early 1980s, I'd phone B.S. at her home in Vermont each December for the recipe. "Why don't you write it down?" she finally asked. So one year, (1986 it turns out), I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, leaned against the butcher-block counter in our kitchen and wrote it down. I'm looking at the tattered piece of papert now.

Solitude Farm Christmas eggnog

18 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 cups brandy (Coronet VSP)
2 cups rum (Old Mr. Boston dark)
2 quarts half and half
Nutmeg

Beat egg yolks (toss whites) until pale yellow. Using a hand held beater, slowly add at high-speed 1 1/4 cup sugar by the spoonful until mixture is pale and creamy. In the same way add liquor by the tablespoon. Using two large bowls, add 2 quarts half and half. Blend very well. Store in a gallon container in refrigerator. Let the eggnog sit for four to five days before serving. Grate a little fresh nutmeg on the top of each cup before serving.

I follow this recipe pretty closely. I do not throw away the egg whites. I save them to make meringues, another favorite taste treat. I may not always add just one spoonful of liquor at a time. I may not always have a fresh whole nutmeg, although I know that makes a big difference. I try to use the specific rum and brandy called for, but if I can't get it I substitute any decent brandy and dark rum.

The process is slow, but each spoonful of effort is repaid by how delicious the results are. I try to be patient. Put good Christmas music on, slow down, and savor the process. I invite a friend to make it with me. It's fun. The hardest part is letting the eggnog sit for four to five days without drinking it.

I just picked up the eggnog recipe to put it back in my folder and on a whim turned the over. What I saw on this crumbling piece of paper takes my breath away.

The type is faded, but I can still read it - a bill for our home study from International Adoptions, an early step in the long, winding process of adopting our daughter, Lyla. I had no idea.

The eggnog recipe holds the early history of our adoption quest. Looking it over brings back a flood of memories from the initial anxieties, through the long three and a half year wait until February 9, 1990, when we brought Lyla home from Trenton, N.J. I'm sitting down now wishing I had already made the eggnog and could have a cup.

On the bill are some pencil jottings in my handwriting "Reprints 39" and the number "50" next to it. I must have been ordering our Christmas card, although the person I am today can't imagine being that organized. Without a doubt, it was a photograph of our son, Sam. Fifty copies at 39 cents each.

Just short of his second birthday, Sam had bright blue eyes, lanky blonde hair, and boundless energy. Whit and I took pictures of him constantly and filled albums with his precious smile and toddler antics. I wonder which picture I chose that year. I'm guessing it was Sam leaping naked on the big blue chair. Now that boy is an extraordinary young man about to turn 23, still leaping around whenever he finds a game to join in, still with a precious smile.

This season I will definitely be making B.S.'s eggnog. Bring on the eggs and cream! I plan to make two batches. The first will be for the side of the yellowed paper with the eggnog recipe, a tribute to friendship and gustatory pleasure. The second batch will be for the other side of the paper, an unexpected window into my family history and a potent reminder of what I have to be thankful for and to celebrate.

Laura Wainwright is a contributing writer to The Times.