We are now beyond the halfway point of August and nearing the final third of the season we call summer. The sun sets a little sooner. The gardens are going to seed. There’s a real chill in the air some nights.
And that, of course, means it’s time to get serious about. . .eggnog.
Earlier this month, a vat of eggnog flavoring exploded in Totowa, N.J. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt — though two workers did suffer cuts and bruises.
But this was not a Tony Soprano mob hit. This was not a Walter White meth lab inferno from “Breaking Bad.” This really was just a run-of-the mill food laboratory explosion that, according to the Associated Press report, blew out the entire rear wall of a three-story factory building. Somewhere nearby it must have been raining eggnog — which is probably some eggnog aficionado’s fantasy, but just as easily could have been mistaken for a sign of the apocalypse.
I’m a big fan of eggnog, but I understand that drinking the stuff 12 months a year might be an extinction-causing event. My friend Linda Norton makes a batch of eggnog every December for the annual Christmas tea here at our small church here in Lincoln, Vermont. Her recipe came from the “Ask It Basket” in this very newspaper, and it includes milk, half-and-half, whipped cream and 27 eggs. Not exaggerating: 27 eggs. There are some other ingredients, but any concoction that includes 27 eggs and that much dairy should come with a warning label. We’re talking angioplasty.
We’re also talking obesity.
Still, it’s very popular at the Christmas tea here — even though it’s a version without the rum. The fact is, eggnog is popular everywhere for about two months: November and December.
And yet it is only popular for those two months. As a culture we drink eggnog for about nine or ten weeks. Three years ago, Matthew S. Schwartz included a graph of eggnog consumption in a terrific article in “Slate Magazine,” and he noted that 20 percent of eggnog sales occur in the days before Christmas. Just try finding a container in the supermarket refrigerator case this month. Just try asking for an eggnog at a restaurant on Church Street. I would suggest that the beverage is just too thick and rich for August, but I have never said no to a chocolate milkshake this time of the year. I have never passed on a root beer float at the local A&W in Middlebury. Nevertheless, eggnog remains for all of us a cold weather treat.
Supposedly, the word eggnog has its roots in eggs and grog. Grog was rum — or spirits. The British would mix eggs and seasonings (such as nutmeg) with rum, because there is just no better way to consume egg protein than by mixing it with alcohol. Likewise, what alcoholic drink is not improved with a couple of eggs? I read that George Washington’s eggnog recipe included whiskey, sherry, and rum. Clearly he was taking no chances.
In any case, that must have been some mighty powerful eggnog they were cooking at Pharmachem Laboratories in New Jersey earlier this month. The blast was felt a mile away, according to an Eyewitness News report I watched on the ABC TV affiliate. Glass windows were blown out across the street. The Totowa fire marshal said he thought that the remains of the factory building might have to be torn down. Apparently, they were preparing new eggnog flavorings.
That’s the thing about eggnog: It can pack a wallop. Maybe that’s why it’s not one of those beverages we crave in the spring or the summer or the autumn. It’s festive. Celebratory. Singular and rare. The truth is, a little eggnog goes a long way.
I’ll stick to the margaritas for another few weeks, thank you very much. There will be plenty of time for eggnog in December.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on August 17, 2014. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” was published last month.)