Faithful readers: forgive the brief hiatus in blog entries as the staff at the Lee-Fendall House valiantly attempted to master the chaos of the holidays.  The flurry of activity during the past few weeks has included putting up beautiful Christmas decorations, hosting a holiday open house, and participating in the annual Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours.  We can now sit back, take deep breaths, and catch up on some of what was temporarily pushed aside.  While we will take another break from our entries over the holidays, look for more entries at the beginning of January.  For this week’s blog entry, it seems all too appropriate to spend a bit of time ruminating on a classic holiday drink.


Eggnog tends to provoke rather strong opinions.  But whether this creamy and rich drink inspires craving or disgust, it is interesting to note that the beverage has a long and storied gastronomical history, one that didn’t just start with the Don Draper-esque Christmas celebrations of the 1950s.  The origins of eggnog can be traced to medieval Britain in what was called a “posset,” or a “hot, milky, ale-like drink.”[1]  Although it progressed through a series of iterations, the drink itself did not become popularly linked with the holidays until the eighteenth century.  Founding father George Washington himself enjoyed the drink, and even wrote his original recipe down for personal reference and posterity.  Perhaps colonial revelers such as Washington had stronger stomachs.  Washington was known to enjoy sweet, alcoholic drinks such as Madeira, and his recipe for eggnog bears no exception:

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. Taste frequently.[2]

Given the above recipe, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that eggnog has caused a problem or two in history, and not just at the company Christmas party.  In 1826, the military academy West Point saw it’s fair share of trouble.  The cadets at West Point traditionally enjoyed a Christmas celebration that included homemade eggnog; however, the tenure of the new superintendent Colonel Sylvanus Thayer threatened this much-beloved custom.  Although Thayer attempted to enforce a rule that prohibited the purchase or consumption of alcohol by cadets at West Point, the cadets found a way around this “suggestion” and threw a raucus celebration that included excessive consumption of eggnog.  What soon became known as the “Eggnog Riot” involved over 70 cadets and resulted in charges of assault and destruction of property.  Nineteen cadets and one soldier were court-martialed in retribution for the fiasco, although one cadet notably escaped blame.  Jefferson Davis, who would go on to become President of the Confederate States of America, was one of the alleged perpetrators during the events.  Although he was placed under house arrest for a period of time, he successfully avoided the more serious fate of some of his other classmates.[3]

Overly enthusiastic fan of eggnog

Jefferson Davis, overly enthusiastic fan of eggnog

Luckily, consumption of eggnog throughout history hasn’t always been quite as dramatic as the Eggnog Riot.  By the Victorian period, however, eggnog had officially replaced the popular colonial drink of punch as the drink of choice during the holidays.  In addition, it was one of the few alcoholic drinks acceptable for ladies to drink in public.  During the holidays eggnog would have been traditionally served before breakfast and consumed throughout the day.  One can only imagine the scene at Victorian homes such as the Lee-Fendall House during Christmas.[4]

If you choose to indulge in this decadent and delicious holiday drink over the next few weeks, remember that you’re in good company.  Although do try not to follow the example of Jefferson Davis and his fellow cadets.

–Lauren Maloy, Museum Assistant


[1] Elizabeth Dias, “A Brief History of Eggnog,” TIME Newsfeed. December 21, 2011.  Accessed December 16, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Carol S. Funck, “The Eggnog Riot,” U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, December 22, 2010. Accessed December 16, 2012.

[4] Mary M. Theobald and Libbie Hodges Oliver, Four Centuries of Virginia Christmas (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, 2000), 91.