Egg-Nog’s Norfolk Bloodline

Some American foods or spices are known to have an indigenous, African, or Caribbean orgin. The term barbecue, for example, seems to derive from the Taino-Arawak barbacoa.

But most early American foods and drinks derive from a British, or other European, source, not surprising considering the pattern of settlement from the 16th century through to the 1800s. Chowder, as I discussed recently, is probably of French origin, via chaudière and modern French dishes like caudière.

Terms like ale, beer, cake, cocktail, burgoo, sea pie (in French Canada, cipaille), pot pie, cobbler, and countless others hail from Britain or Ireland. Sometimes a term got twisted around a bit. We are fairly certain the term highball, for example, derives from the Irish ball of malt for a whiskey drink as discussed a while ago here.

What of egg-nog, a drink of the North American Christmas season? I am saved from unearthing its etymology and history, or most of it, due to Wikipedia’s learned exposition and references, see here.

As you see, the author(s) consider that one way or another, the drink derives from the possets known much earlier in parts of Great Britain – mixtures of egg, cream or milk, sugar, spices, and wine or ale. This seems correct, but many have thought the term egg-nog (or eggnog), being two words obviously of English origin, is an Americanism albeit with conflicting explanations of origin (see Wikipedia again).

Usually if one digs deep enough, an English or other British source or cognate can be found, but I confess I had some trouble with egg-nog. I could not find a single U.K. reference to it, until this one popped up, in the 1894 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer.

As the charming, hand-lettered introduction states, the book was first published in 1870. Brewer was a Norwich-born teacher, author, and lawyer who wrote numerous popular guides to knowledge. He enjoyed good success through a 60-year career. It appears he spent most of his career in Norwich, part of the old county of Norfolk in East Anglia. Later in life he lived in Nottinghamshire with relatives.

Brewer and the book have no evident or even implied connections to America, but he includes egg-nog in a listing of terms for a drink made with sweetened ale or wine and eggs. There is no reference to milk or cream, but some American egg-nog of the 19th century omitted the dairy. See e.g., here in the 1884 The Modern Bartenders Guide by O.H. Byron.

“Nog” is known in the old beer type Norfolk nog, which we discussed in this essay and linked moreover to early London porter development and its predecessor three threads.

Being a Norfolk man, Brewer’s inclusion of the term egg-nog quite possibly reflected local lore, a term alternate that is to the more usual egg flip and egg hot. He may have drawn on knowledge of other regional usage in Britain, but the fact that “nog” has a Norfolk association, as noted, suggests to me egg-nog was a Norfolk regionalism.

Norfolk is not, for the purposes of this discussion, any old part of England. It is in East Anglia, a region of significant early emigration to America. This is known to anyone who has studied in-depth early American settlement. It is addressed with point in the landmark study of British social and cultural influence in America, David H. Fischer’s (1989) Albion’s Seed.

For confirmation of Norfolk influence on American speech, see here in Russell Bartlett’s 19th century Dictionary of Americanisms albeit he does not elucidate egg-nog, for its part. Other glossaries of Norfolk or provincial speech I have been able to locate similarly do not discuss egg-nog, yet “nog” is attributed in at least one of them (William Holloway’s) to Norfolk usage for an ale drink.

A convenient statement of Norfolk’s influence on American culture is offered in the Norfolk official visitors website, “Visit Norfolk”:

Like so many coastal English counties, Norfolk could be relied upon to supply many of the original colonists to North America – Norfolk was the county that had the largest percentage of known passengers on The Mayflower. The county’s motto is ‘Do Different’ – and in the past so many Norfolk people wanted to do just that … An exploration of Norfolk’s towns and villages will unearth many links between the USA and ‘Nelson’s County’.

Hence Norfolk, Connecticut, need I say, and so much more.

As the hallowed phrase goes, “it came on the Mayflower”. It was probably true of egg-nog, not just the genus of drink, but the very term.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from Pixabay, here, and is indicated as available for public use without restriction. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.