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Eggnog – A Christmas Tradition

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 8 comments

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Americans have always loved their eggnog. Although the egg and milk-based punch actually originated in Britain where it derived from a medieval beverage called “posset,” it was brought to the American colonies where it remained popular. Thanks to the numerous farms in the American colonies, eggs and milk were not only abundant, but readily available to most people, allowing citizens from all walks of life to enjoy eggnog punch.

Wealthier colonists added expensive wines and brandies to their eggnog, while the affordability of rum made it a common addition to the average person’s nog. No matter what type of alcohol was used, its addition to eggnog most certainly delivered a “punch”—hence the significance of that term.

 

It’s not known exactly how the name “eggnog” came into being. During the seventeenth century, drinks were served in wooden cups and mugs called “noggins.” It seems logical that the serving of the egg-based drink in a noggin was combined into one word, “eggnog.” Perhaps after one had consumed several noggins of the alcohol-laced punch, it was just easier to lift an empty mug and request a refill using an efficiency of words: “Egg—nog—if ye please.”

 

George Washington loved eggnog and hand-wrote his own recipe for it. Using rye whiskey from his distillery as well as sherry and rum from the Caribbean, Washington noted that the concoction should be “tasted frequently” as it cured in a cool place for several days. As he did not identify who the taster should be, we will leave that to our glorious imaginations.

 

Over two-hundred years later, Americans still enjoy their eggnog, especially during the Christmas holidays. While it can be purchased ready-to-drink, there’s nothing like the taste of homemade eggnog.

 

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Our family and guests have enjoyed the following recipe for several generations. I do hope you’ll try my recipe, and as you lift a cup in a toast, remember to thank our forefathers for passing along this traditional beverage.

 

Cynthia Howerter’s Eggnog Punch

12 large eggs, separated (can use pasteurized eggs, available at most grocery stores)

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups whole milk

4 cups heavy cream

2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

Ground nutmeg for dusting

 

In a large mixing bowl, beat the 12 egg yolks with the sugar until thick. Gradually add the milk, cream, half-and-half, and the optional nutmeg, if desired. Chill. In another large bowl, beat the 12 egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold whites into the cream mixture. Refrigerate until well-chilled. Sprinkle with nutmeg before serving. Serve cold.

 

Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter 

 

 

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Christmas Decorations in Colonial Williamsburg

Posted by on Dec 5, 2014 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 2 comments

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Last year, my husband and I celebrated Thanksgiving Day in Colonial Williamsburg. We were delightfully surprised to find many doors and windows already adorned with the town’s famous Christmas decorations.

 

 

 

After admiring the many gorgeous wreaths displayed on stores and houses on Duke of Gloucester Street, I knew I had to have one for our front door. But while I adore hand-decorated wreaths, swags, and table decorations, I’m all thumbs when it comes to making them. Can you relate?

 

Not to worry! Colonial Williamsburg has had previous experience with people like us. Their outdoor garden shop in the heart of the old colonial capital sells made-to-purchase Christmas decorations. Let’s take a look.

 

Who could resist buying this lavish wreath with fresh scents of pine, oranges, apples, and pineapple? This would look wonderful on my front door.

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For someone with a small front entrance, this pine wreath, which boasts a fresh pineapple, oranges, dried pods, yarrow, and several small flowers, might do quite nicely.

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I saw my husband ogling over this beauty with its green oranges, apples, and pine cones. He’d nearly convinced me to purchase it until I spotted several other wreaths.

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Ahh. This exquisite masterpiece with yarrow, green oranges, apples, pine cones, and dried lotus pods would look incredible on our door … but so would the one my husband liked. Sigh.

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What a dilemma. Normally, when I can’t choose between two items, I buy them both. But because we have only one front door, my usual purchasing method was not going to work.

 

Needing more time to think about which wreath to purchase, I walked to the other side of the shop and discovered that the thoughtful Williamsburg folks also sell table decorations for members of the all-thumbs club! Who knew?

 

This arrangement would look splendid on my dining room table!

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But this arrangement with the breath-taking purple larkspur, red pomegranate, holly, and magnolia leaves would look dazzling as well. By now, you can see that I was having a difficult time choosing what to purchase—but only because all of the Christmas decorations were to die for.

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Seeing that I could not make a timely decision, my wonderful husband suggested that we leave the shop and head to the King’s Arms Tavern where we were to meet other family members. “You can make up your mind over dinner, Cynthia.”

 

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Obviously, hubby did not realize that our cozy dining room would contain yet more stunning decorations …

 

 

 

 

 

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…which further confounded my purchasing decision.

 

 

 

 

 

After a lovely dinner, my husband asked which Christmas decoration I’d decided to purchase.

“I’ll take them all.”

For some reason, my answer did not surprise him.

 

Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter

 

Colonial Williamsburg is located in Williamsburg, Virginia.

 

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Old Fort Niagara’s Colonial Trading Post

Posted by on Nov 11, 2014 in Colonial Articles, Historical Articles | 12 comments

As part of the research for the colonial historical novel I’m writing, I recently visited Old Fort Niagara near Youngstown, New York where the mouth of the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario.

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The French Castle at Old Fort Niagara with Lake Ontario in the background

 

In 1726, the French military force in North America desired to build a fortification on this strategic site in order to control who traveled on the Niagara River. However, the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy owned this land and strenuously objected to the building of a fort. In order to appease the Iroquois and still meet their own military objective, the French purposely built the main building of the fortification to look like nothing more than a large residence. They named it the “French Castle.”

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The French Castle at Old Fort Niagara

 

Eager to retain the Iroquois’s loyalty, the French shrewdly outfitted a room on the castle’s first floor as a trading post and stocked it with goods that the Indians desired to purchase. Cognizant of Europe’s insatiable desire for furs—especially beaver pelts that were used to make hats—the French encouraged the Indians to trade the furs they trapped for European goods. As would any woman who enjoys shopping, I was eager to spend some time in the French Castle’s trading post. Come with me as we take a look at some of the items that induced the Iroquois to part with their furs.

 

Bales of luxurious wool trade blankets were shipped from France to Old Fort Niagara. Before the Native Americans were able to purchase blankets, they used furs for warmth on a cold night. Notice the small keg containing trade tomahawks in the lower left corner which not only provided the owner with a sharp edge, but a pipe for smoking tobacco as well.

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Bales of wool trade blankets

 

Hanging between bolts of colorful wool fabric is a metal trap used in hunting. Because Native Americans were unable to produce iron, these traps were a popular and fast-selling item, helping them acquire more furs for trading. Knives and trade beads are displayed on the bottom shelf.

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Iron animal trap

 

Guns, snowshoes, kegs of cider, plates, iron cooking kettles, kegs of gunpowder, and silver jewelry enticed the buyer to part with his furs or money.

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Goods for sale

 

Once the French learned what items were important to Native Americans, they imported large quantities from Europe. Because the Indians loved jewelry, the trading post offered a large selection of silver necklaces, pendants, and glass trade beads.

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Bolts of fabric, silver jewelry, and trade beads

 

Note the animal pelts on the counter and the canoe and paddles hanging from the ceiling. Perhaps someone needed a canoe but didn’t have time to construct one.

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A long view of the trading post

 

A customer has recently traded fox pelts for French-made goods.

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Fox pelts

 

Traded furs were bundled and tied with cording …

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Traded pelts

 

… or wrapped in canvas and sent to France where they were made into garments.

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Pelts bundled in canvas

 

The man who ran the French Castle’s trading post not only slept in the store—perhaps to make certain his wares didn’t disappear during the night …

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… he also cooked his meals in the trading post’s fireplace.

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I’m glad you joined me on this tour of Old Fort Niagara’s trading post. Did you see anything that you’d like to purchase? I must admit that I loved the well-made silver jewelry imported from France. Because there’s so much more to see at the fort, I’ll return there on a later post.

 

A very special thank you to our wonderful Old Fort Niagara tour guide, Jim Watz, who graciously answered our many questions and to Robert Emerson, Executive Director of Old Fort Niagara, who met privately with my husband and me and provided valuable historical details, and to Hawk, a Seneca Indian employed at the fort who taught us about muskets and rifles.

 

Photographs ©Cynthia Howerter

 

Old Fort Niagara is located at Youngstown, New York.

 

 

 

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