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History of Eggnog

Eggnog (archaically egg nogg, egg milk punch) is generally eggs with beer, wine, cider, or spirits and sometimes served hot (OED). It originates as an Americanism where egg and nog were combined between 1765 and 1775 to describe a drink, that at the time was served for occasions other than holiday parties.

Nog is usually described etymologically as being of East Anglian origin around 1623, where in the local middle english dialect of Norfolk, East Anglia nog was a strong ale (OED). Humphrey Prideaux wrote a letter in 1693 from the county of Norfolk, describing “a bottle of old strong beer, which in this country they call ‘nog.’ ”[1] Being called an old beer, it was probably an old ale or keeping ale, which could have started as a strong beer (higher alcohol content) and then was aged to develop a carmally, estery, and thick flavor.

Egg nog is generally considered to be have developed as a type of posset (ca. 1425). Posset was spelled in many various and wondrous ways because this was the time of middle English. A posset is a usually warm or hot milk drink with alcohol, typically wine, strong ale, or liquor, and flavored with sugar, spices, and herbs (Hieatt 1988, OED). Care must be taken in the order in which the ingredients are added, or the milk will curdle. The recipe was of course originally recommended for medicinal use. The oldest discussion of its medical virtues appears to be John Russell’s Boke of Nurture, a form of manual for manservants and is dated tentatively at 1460 to 1470 (Sloan MS. 2027, British Museum).[2]

Nog certainly could have been used to make a posset. A similar but later drink was syllabub.[3] Syllabub (1573), is a drink of milk or cream that is sweetened, flavored, and mixed with wine or cider (OED). Eggnog also appears to follow in the history of punches (1630s) in that they traditionally are a mix of ingredients that include alcohol and since the 17th century, often several types mixed. While they are similar, punches generally don’t include milk or eggs. The Spanish made similar drinks with sherry, The Portuguese used Madeira, and the French used brandy. Scandinavians make a drink called glögg, gløgg, and the Germans and Austrians glühwein.

As colonists moved to the New World, they took the tradition with them, with variations being found in South America and the Caribbean. Punch in particular had become a very popular drink and it tended to use a mixture of alcohols, usually distilled, not just the one ale or fortified wine. So rum naturally came to be used in the Caribbean and the American colonies. A Chilean version not surprisingly includes cocoa powder and chillies. Puerto Rico uses coconut milk and calls the drink Coquito.

George Washington’s recipe called for domestic and imported spirits and sherry. The recipe was prepared for George Washington and Martha Dandridge’s wedding at her plantation, located near the small town of White House, New Kent County, Virginia on January 6, 1759. Egg nog was commonly served at weddings and other occasions. The Wedding was known by participants as the “Twelvth Night Wedding” or the the “Old Christmas Wedding.”[4] The recipie Washington devised included a pint of brandy, some rye whiskey and Jamaican rum. To this mixture Washington added a healthy dose of mellow sherry to provide the drink with “good fumes.”[ibid.]

Note that 1750 is considerably before Washington’s farm manager, James Anderson, suggested he build a distillery sometime not long after he was hired in 1796.[5] An article in a 1979 newspaper translated the recipe as follows:

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days.[6]

The number of eggs is estimated to be about a dozen based on the extant recipe of Jane Gilmore (Mrs. B.C.) Howard ca. 1879.


Egg Nogg.

Beat the yolks of twelve eggs, and the whites of two as light as possible. Allow an even table-spoonful of pounded sugar to each egg, pour slowly into the above one pint of brandy, and quarter of a pint of peach brandy, stirring rapidly. When well mixed, add three pints of new milk, and four pints of cream. No liquor must be added after the cream and milk, or the egg nogg will be thin and poor.

The peach brandy may be omitted, if desired.[7]


A diary entry from another family about 10 years earlier suggests the nog bowl was simply left out on the porch for refrigeration.[ibid.] Then again, global temperatures on average were a good deal cooler at the time.

Pierce Egan (1772–1849), a period author, published a book in 1821 titled Tom & Jerry : Life in London, or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, in Their Rambles and Sprees Through the Metropolis. To publicize his work Mr. Egan made up a variation of eggnog he called “Tom and Jerry”. It added the instructions to serve the drink warm but otherwise was not that different than the earlier recipes. Being warm it seems to signal a continuation of the posset concept. The drink perhaps introduced the common spices we use in egg nog today–nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon, but it is hard to tell since posset recipes rarely if ever specify which herbs and spices to use.

Jerry Thomas (1830–1885), the famous bartender who created a lot of mixed drinks in the the mid- to late-19th century published a number of different types of Egg Nogg, also called Egg Milk Punch, in 1862 (Wondrich 2015:129–130). The single serving recipe for egg nog called for a tablespoon or two of fine white sugar, two tablespoons of water, one egg, two ounces of cognac brandy, an ounce of Santa Cruz rum, into a half tumbler of shaved ice, fill the tumbler with milk, shake well and add some grated nutmeg on top. The same recipe appears in Thomas as milk punch leaving out the egg (Wondrich 2015:82–83). Thomas mentions the fact that every good bar has a tin eggnog shaker for this purpose, which is possibly the earliest reference to a cocktail shaker. Thomas also provided a Sherry Egg Nogg recipe, wherein two ounces of oloroso sherry replace the cognac and rum, though in the party size of the drink titled Baltimore Egg Nogg, he calls for madeira along with the rum and cognac. This is a good point also to mention the size of the measures as Thomas called for wine glass measures, which actually are two and not six or eight ounces in size. One other recipe that Thomas published was General Harrison’s Egg Nogg, which called for no milk but used hard cider, which was a nod to Benjamin Harrison who ran on the Log Cabin and Hard Cider slogan for his populist ticket during his 1832 presidential campaign.

Wondrich (2015) goes on to say that whiskey in eggnog originated in the backwoods of the eastern frontier (Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky) and that “swells and epicures” preferred brandy, rum or fortified wine in theirs. It is interesting to note the Irish milk punch scáiltín includes whisky, so the use of whiskey is not unlikely by the Scots-Irish frontier folk. Wondrich (2015) goes on to say a recipe from the Republic of Texas (1836–1846) called for mezcal in their eggnog. Probably around the middle of the 19th century Southerners who used the backwoods version of eggnog began to use bourbon in place of rye in their eggnog, as this spirit was becoming increasingly popular at the time. But notably, gin doesn’t appear in any period recipes found, but just about anything goes in modern mixology and gin, tequila, and even ginger liqueur show up as suggestions in current recipes for eggnog.

The thing we buy in the store that is called eggnog is a distant relative of what it originally was. The A&E Dairy Classic Eggnog is touted at a recipe they have used for more than 50 years.[8] It contains milk, cream, sugar, nonfat dry milk, whey, egg yolks, gelatin, nutmeg, annatto and turmeric (for color), natural and artificial flavors. Unless you make it yourself, this close to what you will buy from any brand due to cost constraints, packaging and storage concerns, and modern manufacturing requirements. That said, Esquire magazine has rated Organic Valley as the best Eggnog brand, Serious Eats rated it second best behind another regional brand from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—Turkey Hill.


Hieatt, Constance B. An Ordinance of Pottage. Prospect Books, London. 1988.

OED. Oxford English Dictionary. OED Online. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England. Continually updated. Accessed December 2, 2015.

Wondrich, David. Imbibe! Updated and Revised Edition: from Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. Penguin Publishing Group, New York. 2015.

History of Carols

We know music was part of the prehistoric world due to finding instruments that date between 30,000 and 45,000 years old and it is generally thought that singing proceeded instrument making as singing is closer to language than playing instruments.[1][2] Being prehistoric, there is no written record of the songs played or when or why they might have been performed. The earliest historic record of music is on clay tablets in a number of languages from the Ugarit site in Syria dating to 3,400 years ago, or about 1,450 B.C.E.[3]

The site was populated by Amorites, a northwest semitic people living in southwestern Mesopotamia (modern day Syria into Iraq) who were in contact with Sumaria, Cyprus, Egypt, and Akkadia based on the exonyms, names for a people from other people, in those languages. Another more recent interpretation of the song has been performed on a  lyre.

The earliest extant songs for Christmas date to about the time that the December 25th date was adopted in the Roman Empire,which w during the 4th Century C.E.. They are not carols as we think of them and are in cant  form. A good example was written by  Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan. It is typical of liturgical songs of the time being in the form of chant.[3] During the 9th century, chant became polyphony, which was common in secular songs as well as religious. As time passed, and heading into the early Middle ages,  the Christmas sequence, poems composed to be sung during the mass, between the Alleluia and the gospel reading, consisted of modal melodies in rhymed stanzas.[4] Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) introduced it in north European monasteries, developing under the Cistercian Order (Miles 1976).

Popular or folk music continued as usual, primarily being learned from oral sources only and was the entertainment of the common people.  In the twelfth century the Parisian monk Adam of St. Victor began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something closer to the traditional Christmas carol. Then in the thirteenth century, as songs became more folk based, a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native languages developed, particularly due to the work of Adam of Saint Victor (d. 1146) and Francis of Assisi (c.1181–1226).

During the high middle ages, the musical form of carol (carole or carola) was a circle dance, and related to bransles and rondels that are thought to have begun as country or peasant dances, but had by that time become common among the landed gentry (Randle 1986). The songs that accompanied the dances initially were sung, but as they became adopted by court, instrumentation was written to accompany the dances (Scholes 1976).

By the 12th century  Troubadour songs of courtly love and chivalry became common in documentation.[4] By the time of the Renaissance, dance songs were still common but the new courtly music was madrigals, which were not Christmas songs at all, but many today find them pleasingly similar and they are most often performed during the holidays. Most madrigals were songs of love, songs of romance.[6] Madrigals eventually merged with other forms of song, such as cantatas,  forming a new form of music—the lyric opera and in particular arias, which is heading in another direction entirely.

None of these preceding forms are actually Christmas carols as we know them today. Modern Christmas Carols appear to actually be more related to a practice called mumming, an ancient, secret rite where a usually all male troupe dresses up and goes about the town, singing and dancing songs that were passed only within the secret society known as Mummers Play and only by oral tradition. Earlier still, this was a probably Celtic, but certainly Germanic custom of visiting the orchards to sing incantations to the trees for a bountiful harvest. This is the tradition that became known as wassailing in the 18th and 19th centuries. The mummers sometimes wore costumes or black face and sometimes cross-dressed for female parts. They would appear on holidays and as entertainment at festivals. Usually lyrics and gestures could be quite lewd. The mumming practices were so lewd and related to pagan, probably Celtic and Germanic customs, that the Church actively banned it.[7] The practice was not ended, however and continued, despite one religion officially frowning on the practices. Mumming has been retained in the tradition of pantomime, usually performed on a stage as a sometimes burlesque review with acting and singing during the Christmas season in the U.K., St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland, and as Mummers Parades on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Mumming was not just done at Christmas originally, but also Candlemass and Halloween and probably other holidays.[ibid.] During the 19th century it transformed to wassailing.  In Scotland,  the practice became associated with the New Year celebration of Hogmanay a seemingly similar but etymologically difficult custom of parading about town.

It is unclear when the first actual religious carol was written but it is believed that the first such carols followed the verse-refrain pattern, as they were liturgical and followed out of the tradition of chant.[8] It is thought that these liturgical carols appeared between the 13th and 14th century and were based on Christ, Mary, or other biblical figures, and sometimes mixed Latin and local languages.[ibid.]

One of the earliest recorded pieces of a secular carol the early 13th century Anglo-Norman piece, Seignors Ore Entendez À Nus.[9] About on hundred years later, John Awdlay, a blind Shropshire chaplain, wrote caroles of Cristemas in 1426, probably sung by groups of ‘wassailers’, who went from house to house (Miles 1976:47–48).[10] The practice suggests the growing influence of the clergy in making the winter solstice a church holiday.
Carols gained somewhat in popularity after the Renaissance and Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence (as well-known Reformers like Martin Luther authored carols and encouraged their use in worship). This was the consequence of the fact that most protestant churches of the reformation warmly welcomed music in vernacular languages.[11]

However the most lasting influence on both carols and Christmas traditions took place in the Victorian period when many new carols were introduced and old lyrics were recast in new arrangements.[ibid.]  For some reason, things seem to have fossilized here in the era of Dickensian tales and the opulence of Empire. Greenery is clearly Christian, wassailing is strictly above board and so on.

The proper Anglo Saxon toast is Wæs þu hæl, which is To your health. in Middle English, it is Waes Hael, and the response Drinc Hael!


Miles, Clement.Christmas Customs and Traditions. Dover Publications, New York.1976.

Randel, Don Michael, ed. “Carole,” New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1986.

Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline. “Pantomime”, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, Jack Zipes (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York. 2006.

Scholes, Percy A.. John Owen Ward, ed. The Oxford Companion to Music, tenth edition. Oxford University Press, New York. 1970.

A History of Christmas

Christmas is a time of traditions, nostalgia, reveling, and now, unbridled commercialism. Literally the Christ mass, from crīstesmæsse in the Anglo Saxon language of Old English, Christmas is set on the liturgical calendar to be on December 25 due to an interesting sequence of events.

The actual date of the birth of Christ is all but entirely unknown and was not set until the second century C.E. (Common Era) when a number of scholars began trying to determine the day and year of the birth of Christ. The event had been unimportant liturgically until this time. Only three books in the apocrypha, the gospels of James and Thomas and pseudo-Matthew, even attempt to set a date for the birth and similarly only a couple of theologians in the second century C.E. were working on determining a date. No dates appear in the bible as configured primarily by the synods and edicts of the Catholic Church.

According to Clement of Alexandria (Titus Flavius Clemens), a biblical scholar who flourished in the late 2nd century C.E., several different days had been proposed earlier in the century based on literary sources and working out the corresponding dates. The choices were: the 25th of Pashon and the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi.

There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of Pachon … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi.[1]

The months are unsurprisingly Coptic Egyptian, since Clement was from Alexandria. The 25th of Pachon is about May 20th in the current calendar. The month of Pachon (Pashons, Bashans or or بشنس) corresponds to May 9 to June 7 on the Gregorian calendar. Similarly, the 25th of Pharmenoth is about March 21, and 25th of Pharmuthi is April.[2][3] The dates given were derived from the Antikythera mechanism, a highly accurate calendar found of the coast of Antikythera in 1900.  Also note that the Roman Senate renamed Gaius Octavius as Emperor Augustus (Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus) in 27 B.C.E. (Before Common Era), which places the birth of Christ at 1 C.E., but other assessments range from 6 B.C.E. to 3 C.E. with the general consensus being between 6 and 4 B.C.E.[2]

The timing of the Christmas feast today is problematic, for a number of reasons. No good period sources document the actual date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and early Christians opposed celebrating birthdays. Setting Christmas on the 25th of December  aligns it roughly to the Roman festival called Saturnalia at about December 17, the Pagan festival of Yule on the winter Solstice, and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah occurring at about the same time of year.

Christmas was set as December 25th probably during the 5th century C.E. by the Latin half of the Roman Empire and the corresponding segment of Christianity growing slowly from the first Roman almanac recording December 25th at about 350 C.E.[3] By this time, the Roman Empire was split into east and west, Roman and Byzantine halves. The day given was for the western empire, based in rome where the Latin or Catholic church was based. The east, based in Constantinople, and the Greek Orthodox church used January 6, which in Europe became known at Twelfth Night or Epiphany. Note however the Anglicans have Epiphany and Twelfth Night on January 5th. Locales in southwest England have retained the Julian date, and Twelfth Night occurs on January 17th.

Which brings us to the next point. The problem of actual dates of Christmas became amplified as the Julian Calendar, founded in 46 B.C.E. had drifted enough from actual observation that in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII implemented a new calendar designed by Luigi Lillio (1510–1576). Only Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain adopted it at first. Great Britain adopted it in 1752. China didn’t adopt it until 1929.[3] The way we count time further reduces any potential significance of a date that wasn’t actually certain to begin with.

Fast forward to the early 20th Century. In 1924, both Macy’s in Manhattan and Hudson’s in Detroit held their first Thanksgiving Day parades, both of which featured Santa at the end of the Parade to usher in the Christmas buying season, which had the effect of moving the date of Christmas decorations being put up first to Thanksgiving week and since then it has continued to creep forward into the year, with decorations available for sale before Halloween.

In many countries both Protestants and Catholics continue to put up a tree on Christmas Eve and it is typically removed on Twelfth Night.[4] However, it should be noted that greenery associated with Advent dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Celtic and Germanic pagan customs associated with lit wreaths at Yule were transformed to decorations for the four weeks before Christmas.  The adoption of the tree grew in popularity in Germany during the reformation and spread from there.

American society was heavily influenced by Europe, and especially Great Britain, with trees beginning to take the place of swags and bundles of greenery in the U.S. likely starting with Martin Van Buren at the White House in 1840 (Mendez 1983). Notable locations had trees before this, but it was limited to certain heavily German areas until then. The general U.S. population began to widely accept trees about in the 1850s, about 10 years after the first large waves of German immigrants that occurred shortly after 1848, and among the wealthy and elite at first. By 1880, the practice of trees was widespread, but despite key public trees being very large, for the most part trees remained small until the middle of the 20th century (Del Ray Beach Historical Society, Henry Flagler Museum, images in the Library of Congress [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]).

Mendez, Albert J. Christmas in the Whitehouse. Westminster Press, Philadelphia. 1983.

Planning and Zoning 101: A basic guide.

World Peace through Zoning–slogan on a sticker at the 2009 American Planning Association Upper Midwest Conference.

Planning is an essential tool to manage and guide growth and development in any community and set out expectations for land use and provide enforcement options to the government. The purpose is to set up a plan that owners and developers in a community can see and help them make decisions. It is also a critical tool to prevent incompatible types of development happening next to each other. Before land zoning became common, noise, odors, and other pollution occurred that affected housing. Zoning came about to help manage this.

Not surprisingly the foundation of zoning begins with property rights, which have been shaped with legislation and court rulings. The US Constitution and Thomas Jefferson’s Public Land Survey System established private property rights and a means to convey property. Jefferson’s system set up a plan by which land was transferred to private entities–citizens and railroads primarily, through fees or grants. Following that, land is bought and sold through a legal process.

Under the Constitution rights not reserved for the Federal government are reserved to the States and to the People. The state of Iowa delegates authority to its cities and counties and includes the right to set up land use zones through the City Council or Board of Supervisors. There are constitution expectations that citizens have rights to own, use, and enjoy their land but the States have delegated regulation of land use and health and safety to the cities and counties. Local governments manage those uses to make sure adjacent uses are compatible and to provide means to address problems when they occur. The rights of adjoining landowners are also taken into account, especially if a nuisance becomes an issue. But for the most part, an owner has a right to use property in the manner for which it is zoned without infringement other than what is set forth in the zoning ordinance. If another use is desired, rezoning needs to occur. If there are problems with land use, it will be addressed through the zoning ordinance.

Planning is a process distinct from zoning. It is a method of setting goals and guidelines for how development and growth should occur. Since ancient times, cities and regions have been planned by governments, but a major change happened when Daniel Burnham made the Chicago Plan of 1909.


Plan of Central Chicago in Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, Plan of Chicago,Chicago Commercial Club, Chicago Illinois. 1909

The plan was big in scope and ambitious. Much of the plan would not come to pass, but it did guide decision making in Chicago and it set up a Plan Commission that oversaw development and changes in use, which has based decisions, in part at least, on the original plan. From that grew a number of cities adopting a master plan or comprehensive plan that guides all zoning decisions in the community. Ultimately, a landowner has the final say in whatever changes occur in land use zoning of their property, even though broad planning occurs on a community level.Much of this hinges on the concept of procedural due process wherein collective and individual rights are outlined for possible changes through a process of public hearings and votes by elected officials. In Iowa, a city council has the final say in adopting plans and making zoning changes. But the two are very different.

A plan will be made after much public input through individual comments and at local information meetings. From there the local commission does fact finding and holds a public hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing the commission makes a recommendation to City Council. The City council then will hold a hearing and take comments from groups and individuals and finally vote on the adoption of the plan. If all goes as it should, the plan is usually adopted.

There are three main type of plan we use in Iowa City. I say we, because the citizens are part of the process. The main document is called the Comprehensive Plan. This sets the overall goals for the community and identifies general subregions for further study. The deeper study happens in district plans and more detailed study goes into smaller areas. Existing land use, trends in city growth, economics and problems to solve are identified. State code also requires preservation of agricultural land, conservation of soil, protection of water, as well working on traffic and health and safety issues. Additionally property values and best land use are to be considered. All city zoning in Iowa needs to refer back to the Comprehensive Plan. In Iowa City, we also look at arts and culture and make extensive use of park planning. The Comprehensive Plan provides a report on current conditions and provides a suggested way to accomplish the goals.
Fairly recently we have started to see master plans used. This is a little confusing, to me anyway, because a Master Plan often is what other states call their comprehensive plan. But in Iowa City this is what is being used to develop plans for a specific group of properties that is much more focused than a district plan. Again, these are documents that analyze the current situations and set goals for future development.

In contrast, zoning is the legal code that says what land uses are allowed in what parts of the city. The base zone are residential, commercial, and industrial as well as public. There are grades of density and use intensity in each the four main types and each has separate but related standards. Iowa City also makes use of overlay zones for certain density allocations in planned developments, to provide design review in certain areas, and also for historic preservation districts. Iowa City also has a sensitive lands and features section in the code so that erodible slopes, trees, wetlands and archaeological sites are preserved.

A zoning change is only initiated by the landowner. Iowa courts have found that applications to rezone property can only be initiated by the entity that owns the land, even if it is a local government. As a result, your neighbor can’t rezone your property and you can’t rezone theirs. The process involves the owner filing an application, which is reviewed by staff and changes can be suggested. Eventually, the issue goes to the Planning and Zoning commission, which takes comments from groups and individuals. They then vote to make a recommendation to approve or deny the request. Note the owner initiates the request, but if the request is contrary to the public interest, and in particular, if it goes against the comprehensive plan, the request can be denied. Note that even if the parcel is rezoned, existing uses almost always can continue so long as the use is continuous and uninterrupted for no longer than a given period of time. The land can be sold and still the use is preserved even though it is now non-conforming. This is called “grandfathering” and you may have noticed that most existing uses and features are grandfathered unless there is an eminent threat to health and safety.

One exception to this is a somewhat murky section of Iowa law regarding eminent domain, but in general this is not to be used for private use and a clear public benefit must be demonstrated. It is not often used in cities except for slum and blight and most often happens in counties for roadway construction.

So the main ideas to keep in mind are property rights belong to the property owner. The State of Iowa generally delegates regulation of property to the local government. The local government plans for land use through the comprehensive plan and approves land use changes through the zoning process.

Did you know? The Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission is required to be gender balanced by ordinance and in 2016 the commission has been chaired by a woman for most of the past 10 years.

Additional resources: Iowa City planning documents, Iowa City Zoning Code, Iowa Code Chapter 414 City Zoning.