We moved to Texarkana from New Orleans in March 1947, and that first Christmas Eve my parents gave a little party for their new friends, serving eggnog in punch cups. In the rush to get Santa out for me afterwards (I was six), Mama did not take time to wash the dishes. Housing was scarce after World War II; and we were renting a turn-of-the-century, high-ceiling frame house with tall, tall windows.
Early Christmas morning we were awakened by the cat, who was climbing the draperies and leaping from window to Christmas tree to window. Mama and Daddy figured out that she was very drunk. She had licked the cream from the eggnog cups.
Mama must have also deduced that good teetotaler Baptists in the buckle of the Bible Belt did not serve eggnog laced with bourbon, for that was their first and last Christmas Eve party. The recipe was my grandfather’s—Papa Wall, we called him—a tall, thin, stern, devoutly religious man born in 1867 in rural Mississippi; a Baptist deacon for decades; and, like my mother, a staunch teetotaler. Except for bourbon in the eggnog at Christmastime and hot toddies in winter to treat sore throats. Neither had an ounce of hypocrisy in their bodies. Instead, their culture exempted bourbon from prohibition under certain circumstances.
Papa Wall’s eggnog bore no resemblance to the cartons of eggnog sold in grocery stores today; and whiskey was an essential ingredient, for the alcohol “cooked” the raw eggs. Today, I almost never see a recipe using raw eggs, but pasteurized eggs are safe.
Papa Wall’s Eggnog
1 dozen pasteurized eggs at room temperature
1 quart whipping cream
1½ cups sugar
1 pint bourbon
Separate eggs, reserving half the whites. Beat yolks; add sugar and stir until creamy. Slowly stir in bourbon. Whip cream; fold into egg mixture. Whip half the whites until stiff; fold into the mixture. Chill well. May be made a few hours before serving. Serves 12–14. When serving, dust the top of each cupful with a dash of nutmeg. (Use remaining egg whites to make Forgotten Cookies or meringue for a pie.)
Note: For best results, bowl and beaters should be chilled for whipping cream, room temperature for beating egg whites. Beaters must be absolutely clean and dry.
I have few distinct memories of living in New Orleans, but I remember that Daddy received bottles of bourbon each Christmas from commercial and industrial companies who shipped on the railroad. He kept a bottle on a ledge in the bedroom chimney, reaching up to bring it down when he had bronchitis in the winter. (When we moved to Texarkana, corporate gifts changed from bourbon to cigars.)
Combine 1 tablespoon each bourbon, sugar (or honey) and lemon juice in a cup. Add boiling water. Stir until sugar dissolves. Drink while hot to ease a sore throat or relax a cough.
As a child, I was served hot lemonade—a toddy without alcohol—when I had tonsillitis. I loved the sensation of scalding, sweet acid on my raw throat, and I have continued to prepare it when I have colds and coughs. Since I detest the flavor of bourbon, I never tried Daddy’s version. However, two years ago, with a cough that wouldn’t quit, I added apple brandy and discovered that alcohol relaxes throat muscles very effectively. The old home remedy works.
Bourbon shows up in every Southern cookbook, especially in desserts, substituted for the brandy or rum used in the East and in Europe. My mother-in-law (an East Texas Methodist) saturated her Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole with it. I don’t cook with bourbon, but I have calvados on hand to spike the Christmas mincemeat pie and hard sauce.