by Ali Berlow
Frank’s been looking forward to the cold weather settling in on Lichen Rock Farm, up in Vermont. And on a steely afternoon in mid November after mucking the stalls and feeding the horses he cleans out his old ceramic crock-pot. He is ready to make his specialty for the holidays now that he’s hoarded enough eggs from his chickens. It takes about two dozen hefty ones to mix up a batch of eggnog. Frank sort of follows a recipe that’s been handed down by the Southern gentlemen in his family, the ones from Athens, Georgia. And if he gets the eggnog done before Thanksgiving, it’ll be perfect for Christmas and New Year’s—that is, if the dogs don’t get to it first.
Since living up north he’s adjusted the recipe to suit his own sensibilities and take advantage of the cold weather. He only uses eggs from his pasture, garden-happy hens. That way he knows where they come from and what his girls have been eating. Keeping the ticks at bay, they do. He uses partially refined sugar that’s light brown so when he it mixes with those healthy yellow raw yolks he gets a deep amber-colored nog. Those eggs get whisked until there are no membranes or little bits left. And instead of straight-up heavy cream, he mixes whole milk and cream together from the Stickney’s Holsteins to make his own half & half, so the eggnog doesn’t leave a coating of butterfat on his tongue.
For weeks the crock-pot full of holiday cheer sits out on the farmer’s porch to age and mellow. The cold mountain air keeps it from turning rotten. With time it gets smoother and stronger as the eggs, sugar and liquor all meld together. He’ll go out now and again to give it a stir and a taste, adjusting the balance of rum to brandy to bourbon, adding a touch more nutmeg, or topping it off with a few more eggs and cream, just to keep the crock full and ready for friends and family.
It was after one of those tastings that he didn’t get the lid on quite right and the farm dogs had a party. A Newfoundland named YaGo, Nanu the Malamute and a snarky Jack Russell drank the whole batch, a few gallons worth. Nanu and YaGo spent the night-into-the-day moaning and howling at the winter moon. It was hard to say whether it was because they were drunk or hungover, but it hurt to hear. The Jack Russell, being the runt of the three, drank just enough eggnog leftover from the big dogs’ drool to get all wobbly and throw up. He wasn’t in the same danger that the other two were in. The vet had to come and give YaGo an IV because the Newfoundland got so dehydrated. It was scary for a while but they all came through. Now Frank’s wife calls the libation ‘The Lichen Rock Three Dog Killer Eggnog’ and he keeps that lid on tight with a couple of bungee cords.
There are other ways to make eggnog that don’t involve weeks of waiting or killing dogs. You can make it right before Christmas if you don’t like the idea of raw eggs hanging around in hard liquor for a long time. But it’s always a good idea to use the freshest eggs possible and preferably those whose history you know. This could be my first year at giving it a go. I’m not that fond of store-bought eggnog, it’s sickly sweet. Friends that have tried the Three Dog Killer say it only gets better with age but that by Valentine’s Day it’s time to get off the farm and come out of the woods, and start using eggs for breakfast again.