Holiday Drinks Warm Up Family Gatherings

[NOTE: This story and recipe first appeared in our Nov.-Dec. print edition.]

By Beth Dooley

My grandfather loved the Holidays, especially Christmas. A self-taught pianist, he played every carol come the day after Thanksgiving, over and over and with glee.  His annual Christmas party, held the night before Christmas Eve, welcomed the entire family (about 20 of us, grand kids and great grand kids), friends, and neighbors, literally hundreds squeezed into his rambling colonial home in West Orange, New Jersey. We ate my grandmother’s meat balls and the ham sent up from an old relative in Virginia and the kids took turns sitting on Santa’s knee.  Joe McGuire, a distant uncle, was game to dress up, and patiently listen to our wishes and dreams.

My grandfather was a serious, formidable businessman. On work days, he dressed mostly in a gray suit, with striped vest, and a pocket watch. But come this party, he donned a goofy red plaid sports coat (it hardly buttoned over his tummy) and played through the night, shouting out the names of the songs (and often their lyrics) as we crooned the night away.

Of Austrian descent, my grandfather was proud of his special Gluhwein. Directly translated “glow wine,” it was a traditional mulled red wine, spiked with cinnamon sticks, star anise, orange peel, and sugar. My grandmother kept it simmering on the stove in an enormous stockpot to ladle into special thick stoneware mugs. Her specialty was eggnog.  A second generation Scot, she whipped up this rich eggy, creamy concoction so that it was light and custardy, topped with fluffy whites. The children were treated to mulled cider and cocoa topped with plenty of whipped cream. The drinks warmed us all and infused their home with spicy aromas that mingled with the freshly cut pine.

The trick to these glogs and nogs, is a balance of flavors matched to the spirit. If the glog is too warm, the wine turns harsh and bitter. Too often eggnog is cloyingly sweet. Be warned that both can be wickedly strong (because they are so flavorful you can’t taste the alcohol). Use a light hand. How well I remember the year, Santa Joe, nodded off after too much nog and fell asleep on my grandparent’s couch. He drove home early the next morning fully dressed and in character. Just think of the kids who spied St. Nick driving a blue Cadillac.

These recipes from my grandmother’s collection can be tailored to your own tastes and traditions. In these parts, Tom and Jerry is more popular than eggnog. It is a drink I’d not heard of until we moved to Minnesota and one you won’t see outside the region. It was devised by British journalist Pierce Egan in the 1820s to publicize his book and play – “Tom and Jerry or Life in London”. This variation of the classic eggnog is served hot in a mug topped with whipped cream. How it came here is something of a mystery, but I suspect its popularity is due to the comedian Yogi Yorgesson, who wrote and performed the song, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.”  It goes, “Down at the corner the crowd is so many / I end up drinking ‘bout twelve Tom and160945218 Yerry.” 

HOT MULLED WINE (pictured)

8 servings (easily doubled)

4 cups apple cider

1 bottle red wine (Pinot Noir)

¼ cup honey

3 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, zested and juiced

4 whole cloves

3 star anise

            Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a simmer for at least 10 minutes.


Serves 6 and easily doubled

This recipe cooks the eggs slightly so they’re safe to eat. (Omit the egg whites if you’re concerned about raw eggs and float meringues on top instead.)

4 egg yolks    

½ cup sugar

2 cups whole milk

Pinch ground cloves

Pinch cinnamon

Pinch nutmeg

1 cup cream

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup Cognac (optional)

4 egg whites (optional)

            In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until they’re light and slowly beat in the sugar until the mixture is fluffy.

            In a thick-bottomed saucepan, slowly heat together the milk, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg until steamy hot, but not boiling. Slowly add half of the hot milk to the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour this back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Cook over medium nigh heat, stirring constantly, with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to thicken, and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Let cool, then refrigerate. Stir in the vanilla and Cognac (or, you may also set the bottle on the side so guests can mix in their own). Chill until ready to serve.

            If using the egg whites, whip until stiff then fold half in to the eggnog and layer the remaining on top.


            To make the eggnog into this classic drink, serve the mixture warm and top with whipped cream.

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