10 Things You Might Not Know About Eggnog

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Eggnog: you know it's delicious, but did you know it once led to a riot at West Point? In honor of National Eggnog Month (which runs all of December) and National Eggnog Day (which falls on December 24), join us as we raise our glasses to one of the most popular beverages of the season with these fascinating facts.

1. Eggnog most likely originated in Medieval times.

Most historians trace eggnog back to posset, a hot milk-based drink comprised of spices and wine, which became popular as early as the 14th century. Though it was mostly consumed as a cozy cocktail, it was also used as a soothing remedy for colds and flu. Posset remained a mainstay into Shakespeare’s era, though it was famously used for nefarious purposes in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth drugged the guards’s posset outside King Duncan’s chambers.

2. George Washington had a (now-famous) super-boozy eggnog recipe.


Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our first president apparently enjoyed serving eggnog during Christmas at Mount Vernon; according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it was one of his favorite concoctions. The recipe continues to circulate widely today, even though Washington forgot to include the number of eggs needed (hey, improvise!). And here it is, in his exact words:

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ 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.

3. Dwight Eisenhower was also a proponent of boozy 'nog.

One of the 34th president’s favorite ways to de-stress was to cook, according to National Journal. “By the time he left office, Dwight Eisenhower had concocted a hearty collection of recipes, chronicled in his post presidential papers,” write Marina Koren, Brian Resnick and Matt Berman. “There was his famous vegetable soup and beef stew, warm hush puppies, and lemon chiffon pie ... But nothing could get you drunk faster than Ike’s eggnog.”

Ike’s recipe calls for one dozen egg yolks, one pound of granulated sugar, one quart of bourbon, one quart of coffee cream (half & half), and one quart of whipping cream. National Journal whipped up some of Ike’s eggnog, and found it a “very alcoholic, surprisingly light and creamy (in density, not in richness or calories) nog.”

4. Heavily spiked eggnog once caused an infamous West Point riot.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Eggnog Riot, a.k.a. The Grog Mutiny, was a Christmas soiree gone very wrong at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1826. Earlier that year, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, West Point’s superintendent, had forbidden alcohol on campus. Known as the “Father of West Point,” Thayer turned what had once been an academy consisting of an undisciplined student body and a derelict campus into the respected institution West Point is today, according to Natasha Geiling in her very detailed retelling of the riot for Smithsonian magazine.

“Eggnog was a traditional part of West Point’s annual Christmas celebration, but Thayer’s moratorium on alcohol threw a wrench in the festivities,” Geiling wrote. “Not to be denied a night of revelry, some cadets set about smuggling in liquor from nearby taverns for the holiday party.”

The cadets proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk, and the night resulted in smashed crockery and windows, broken furniture, the drawing of swords (no one was hurt), gunshots (only a doorjamb was harmed), and a knocked-down lieutenant. Once the “party” was over, 19 cadets were expelled.

The U.S. Army also has a telling of the Eggnog Riot on its official homepage, and the article concludes thusly: “Years have passed since the cadets overindulged on eggnog, but the moral of their story is still applicable. Too much of the ‘good stuff’ can lead to serious consequences. So remember this story as the holiday parties approach; let's not let one night of fun alter our future as 19 West Point cadets had.”

5. When Starbucks removed Eggnog Latte from its holiday menu, there was a flurry of complaints.

In 2014, Starbucks dropped the Eggnog Latte from its offerings. According to USA Today, there was immediate customer backlash. “The coffee kingpin will bring back its seasonal Eggnog Latte nationwide this month after a customer revolt spread from letters to phone calls to social media,” reporter Bruce Horovitz wrote. “It had dropped the beverage, a seasonal offering since 1986, to try to simplify its expanding menu.” Starbucks even issued an apology: "We made a mistake," said then-spokeswoman Linda Mills. "We are very sorry."

Starbucks credits the original Eggnog Latte to Il Giornale, a small, Italian-themed coffee chain in Seattle. Il Giornale’s owner was Howard Schultz, who bought Starbucks in 1987 and then continued the Eggnog Latte tradition at the now-behemoth coffee chain. Though Schultz left Starbucks earlier this year, eggnog-flavored beverages continue to be a part of the coffee chain's holiday menu.

6. Puerto Rico has its own holiday drink that's similar to eggnog.

Coquito is a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas drink, and it’s typically made with coconut milk, rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, and, depending on the chef, sometimes condensed milk, and sometimes egg yolks. The Museo del Barrio in New York City hosts an popular annual Coquito Masters contest during the holiday season.

“Coquito is a very important tradition in the Puerto Rican community. Everyone has their own recipe,” Debbie Quiñones, founder of the contest, told the New York Times in 2009. At the contest covered in the article, one woman competed with her father’s secret recipe, which her mother had stolen for her from his hiding place: a metal safe under his bed. Another contestant used his grandmother’s recipe.

“Everyone has a little quirk that they think makes it better than everyone else’s,” Dr. Frank Estrada, another contestant who was competing with an old family recipe, said. “I can’t sell it, because if I was to put a price on it, of what I think it’s worth, they couldn’t afford it.”

7. It is important to chug eggnog with caution—even the non-alcoholic kind.

In 2014, Ryan Roche of Lehi, Utah, officially became “Utah man hospitalized after chugging eggnog.” Roche’s story of eggnog chugging gone awry became national news, all because he decided to engage in an alcohol-free eggnog-chugging contest as part of an office holiday party.

According to BuzzFeed News, Roche was on his way out the door when he heard his boss yell, “Roche, get up here!” Roche then chugged a whole quart of eggnog in 12 seconds flat. “I just opened up the carton and pretty much poured it down my throat,” Roche told reporter Jim Dalrymple. “I didn’t take a breath of air.”

Roche left the party coughing, but he figured he would soon be fine. Instead, ended up in the hospital, where he spent a day in the Intensive Care Unit, and another two days in recovery. The doctors determined Roche had inhaled some of the eggnog, and he was given antibiotics.

8. Eggnog is sometimes referred to as a "hell's angel."

In Stella Gibbons’s 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm, one of the main characters makes a beverage called a Hell’s Angel, consisting of one egg, one teaspoon of cream, two ounces of brandy, and some ice.

9. David Letterman liked to incorporate eggnog into his Late Night holiday traditions.

David Letterman was famous for his oddball holiday traditions, such as annual target practice involving the giant meatball that topped the Late Show’s Christmas tree in lieu of a traditional star, bow, or angel. And of course, some of his odd holiday shenanigans incorporated eggnog. One year, Letterman drenched his film crew with a Super Soaker filled with eggnog. Another year, the Goo Goo Dolls performed their hit song “Name” with nothing particularly unusual about the performance ... until they dove into a giant glass of eggnog.

10. December 24th is National Eggnog Day.

So what are you waiting for? Find your favorite eggnog recipe. Add some booze, or don’t. Dive in. Don’t forget to come up for air. And, as George Washington advised, taste frequently!

This article originally ran in 2015.

The $13,000 Epiphany That Made Orville Redenbacher a National Popcorn King

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iStock.com/NoDerog

Happy National Popcorn Day! While you’re no doubt celebrating with a bowl of freshly popped, liberally buttered popcorn, here’s something else to digest: Orville Redenbacher originally called his product Red-Bow.

In 1951, Redenbacher and his partner, a fellow Purdue grad named Charlie Bowman, purchased the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant in Boone Township, Indiana. Though Redenbacher’s background was in agronomy and plant genetics, he had dabbled in popcorn, and was friendly with the Chester family.

Eventually, Carl Hartman was brought in to experiment. In 1969, when the trio had developed a seed they felt really confident in, they went to market. They dubbed the product “Red-Bow,” a nod to “Redenbacher” and “Bowman.”

The product was a hit regionally, but by 1970, Bowman and Redenbacher were ready for a national audience and hired a Chicago advertising agency to advise them on branding strategy. At their first meeting, Redenbacher talked about popcorn for three hours. “Come back next week and we’ll have something for you,” he was told afterward.

The following week, he turned to the agency and was told that “Orville Redenbacher’s” was the perfect name for the fledgling popcorn brand. “Golly, no,” he said. “Redenbacher is such a ... funny name.” That was the point, they told him, and they must have made a convincing case for it, because Orville Redenbacher is the brand we know today—and the man himself is still a well-known spokesman more than 20 years after his death.

Still, Redenbacher wasn’t sure that the $13,000 fee the agency had charged was money well spent. “I drove back to Indiana wryly thinking we had paid $13,000 for someone to come up with the same name my mother had come up with when I was born,” Redenbacher later wrote.

Hungry for more Redenbacher? Take a look at the inventor at work in the vintage commercial below.

11 Secrets of Restaurant Servers

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iStock.com/andresr

If you enjoy eating at restaurants, it's worth getting to know the waitstaff. Servers are the face of the establishments where they work, and often the last people to handle your food before it reaches your table.

"People think it’s an easy job, and it’s really not," Alexis, a server who’s worked in the business for 30 years, tells Mental Floss. She says, jokingly, "You want a professional handling your food, because we have your life in our hands."

Even if they don't spit on your plate (which thankfully they almost never will), a waiter can shape your dining experience. We spoke with some seasoned professionals about how they deal with rude customers, what they wish more customers would do, and other secrets of the job.

1. Server pay varies greatly.

The minimum wage changes from state to state, but for tipped workers like servers, the difference in pay can be even more drastic depending on where you work. In over a dozen states, if a worker typically makes a certain amount per month in tips (often $20-$30), their employers are only required to pay them a minimum of $2.13 an hour. That’s how much Jeff, a video producer who’s held various jobs in the restaurant industry, made when serving tables in New Jersey. “Usually, if I had a full paycheck of serving I could just put a little bit of gas into the tank,” he tells Mental Floss.

Waiters and waitresses in many states rely almost entirely on tips to make a living—but that’s not the case everywhere. California, Oregon, and Washington each pay tipped employees minimum hourly wages over $10. Jon, who currently works at a casual fine dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, gets $12 an hour from his employer. Including tips, he typically earns $230 a day before taxes, and brings home about $34,000 a year on a 25-hour work week.

2. They split up tips among the restaurant staff.

Here’s another reason to be generous with your tips: Whatever extra money you leave on the table may be going to more than one person. If you ordered a drink from the bar, or if there was anyone other than your server bringing your food and clearing it from the table, that tip will likely be split up. At one restaurant job, Jeff says he paid food expeditors (workers who run food from the kitchen to tables) 10 percent of whatever tips he earned.

3. Waiters and waitresses know how to handle rude customers.

In addition to taking orders and serving food, servers are often forced to de-escalate conflicts. For many people waiting tables, this means acting sweet and professional no matter how angry customers get. Jon’s strategy is to “treat them like a child, smile, tell them everything they want to hear and remind yourself that it’ll be over soon.” Similarly, Mike (not his real name), a server at a farm-to-table restaurant in Texas, likes to “kill them with kindness." He tells Mental Floss he tries to “be the bigger man and [not] return sour attitudes back to people who don’t treat me with respect. If nothing else I can hold my head high knowing I did my job to the best of my ability and didn’t let their negativity affect my day with other, more pleasant patrons.”

Alexis, who currently waits tables at a family-owned restaurant in California, goes beyond faking a smile and makes a point to practice empathy when serving rude guests. “There’s a hospital near my restaurant, and people come there for comfort food with hospital visitor stickers on their clothes all the time. And I know then that they’re going through something traumatic usually. So when people are acting badly, I put imaginary hospital stickers on their clothes and try to remove my ego.”

4. Your waiter (probably) won’t spit in your food.

While most servers have had to deal with a customer who treats them poorly, they rarely retaliate. On the old urban legend of servers spitting in their customer’s food, Alexis says, “Never seen anybody mess with anybody’s food out of spite or malicious intent. I’ve never seen it happen and I’ve never actually done it. I don’t need to get back at people like that.”

5. Servers do more than wait tables.

Most customers just see one aspect of a server's jobs. When they’re not refilling your drinks and bringing you condiments, they're doing side work—either before the restaurant opens, after the last guest leaves, or in between waiting tables. “It could be rolling silverware, filling sauces, cutting lemons, rotating salad bars, stuff like that,” Jeff says. “It’s not just serving and you leave; there’s usually something else behind the scenes that the server has to do.”

Alexis says that in addition to hosting and serving, she has to prep to-go orders, bus tables, and wash dishes. "We’re expected to be working every moment,” she says.

6. Waiters have some wild stories.

Though parts of the job are tedious, servers are bound to see interesting things. Alexis recalls a husband and wife who were regulars at the restaurant where she worked in the 1990s; the man was later arrested for murder. “I found out when a newspaper reporter started asking me questions about them,” she says. “I’m quoted on the front page of the LA Times as saying ‘A waitress in a local coffee shop said they were a nightmare!’”

Other stories are lighter. “When I worked at Red Robin there was a lady that came in every morning and would ask to sit in the same booth," Jon says. "She carried a bag [of] stuffed animals (mostly dragons) and situated them around the booth, always in the same spots, she’d talk to them throughout her dining experience.”

7. Waiters hate it when you don't know what you want.

The simplest way to get on your server’s good side is to know exactly what you want when you tell them you're ready to order. That means not wasting their time stalling as you speed-read the menu. If you haven't decided on a dish, let your server know and trust that they'll return to your table in a few minutes. “Don’t tell your server you’re ready to order if you’re not ready to order,” Alexis says. “I’m like ‘Come on, I know you’re not ready. I’m going someplace else and I’ll be back.’”

It also means not asking your server to make several trips to your table in the span of a few minutes. Mike says that customers asking for items one at a time is one of his biggest pet peeves. “[Customers will say] ‘I need salt. I need hot sauce. I need another [...] drink.’ I was away from the table for 30 seconds each time. Those requests could easily be fulfilled in one trip to the kitchen.”

8. Waiters hate when you ask to move tables.

Next time you get seated in a restaurant, think twice before asking your server to switch tables. Restaurants divide their floor plan into sections, and each server is responsible for a different group of tables. The hosts in charge of seating rotate these sections to distribute guests evenly to servers; by asking to move, you may be depriving one server of an hour’s worth of tips while creating extra work for a server who’s already swamped. According Jon, the worst time to complain about where you were seated is when a restaurant is busy: “Sometimes this isn’t a problem if we’re slow, but if it’s a Friday/Saturday chances are you were put there for a reason.”

9. Servers work when everyone else gets the day off.

Servers have to be prepared to work a different schedule every week, work late into the night, and work on weekends. This can make maintaining a normal social life challenging. “My schedule can be troublesome, my girlfriend/friends have the opposite schedule as me so I’m never able to make it out on weekends or holidays,” Jon says.

And on the days many 9-to-5 workers go out to celebrate, servers have to wait on them. “Where I currently work I have worked Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, New Years Day, and I will have to work on Mardi Gras (in the South),” Mike says. “I was leaving for work as my family arrived at my house for Christmas. I missed a New Years party in my house. If I hadn’t requested if off as soon as I began working there I’m almost certain I’d have to work 15 [hours] on my birthday.”

10. Your server might give you a free drink if you order it at the right time.

Asking your server for a free stuff likely won’t get you anywhere, but there is one thing you can do to possibly have a drink taken off your bill. If you wait until after your meal is served to order something cheap like a soft drink, Alexis says there’s a chance you won’t get charged for it all. “Not alcoholic drinks, but I’m talking about a cup of coffee or a soda or something like that, especially if you’re already paying for other beverages,” she says. “The server might get too busy or might not be inclined to go back to the POS [point of sale] system and add them on to your bill. It’s more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

11. Waiters want you to learn their names.

There’s a reason most servers introduce themselves before taking your order: They’d much rather you use their real names than a demeaning nickname. “Don’t call me sweetheart! I’m wearing a damn name tag,” Alexis says. “Sometimes I respond well, and other times no.”

And if your server doesn’t introduce themselves and isn’t wearing a name tag, Jon says it doesn’t hurt to ask. “Ask what the servers name is and refer them by name when you’re talking to them.” He says it’s “refreshing when a guest does this.”

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