Holiday Traditions: Our Secret Homemade Eggnog Recipe

Whenever I hear the word “tradition,” I instantly want to break out in song from the Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof. Recently I looked up the lyrics to the Tradition song, and I began to think about my own family traditions and how they have been passed down through the generations.

My grandmother, Vita (Lucy) Capriola, came to America as a little girl from Bari, Italy, and arrived through Ellis Island with her parents and brother, Vito. Many things were left behind, but they kept at least one thing with them:

My grandmother Vita (Lucy) Capriola

Like many Italian-American families, one thing that gets passed down through generations is the knowledge of food. If it’s not our family’s sugo, it is our grandmother’s bubble bread or Easter pizza–simple recipes that all of my relatives live for. Nothing is better than the excitement when we hear that one of the family members has made her famous Easter pizza or the smell of freshly baked bread with gooey cheese and Italian herbs. And the meat. Oh, the meat!

My grandmother with my mother and her cousins.
My grandmother with my mother (bottom left) and her 2 cousins.

These recipes have been passed down from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons, and so on. I have learned to make my family’s sauce and bubble bread; I make these dishes regularly on Sunday mornings and allow them to cook throughout the day. My oldest helps me with the bread, and we love to do it together. It’s something similar to what my mother always did as I was growing up. There have been times when I watch my daughter roll out the bread that I start to get a little emotional. I think about my grandmother and the times we spent together.

Many of the memories we have of my grandmother live on in these traditions. They bring a smile to my face every time I think about them.

In addition to my family’s traditions, my husband’s family also has their own, most of which are centered around the holidays. This includes his grandmother’s anise seed Christmas cookies and their famous eggnog. Anise seed cookies are an acquired taste, and I did not acquire a taste for his grandmother’s cookies. One of the ingredients is actually lard! As for egg nog, that too is an acquired taste. Especially homemade eggnog.

At first, when I heard that my husband makes eggnog from scratch, I was a little skeptical. I mean…raw eggs? He claims he buys pasteurized eggs, but to me, they are still raw eggs. However, no one has ever gotten sick in the 40+ years since the tradition began; my father-in-law believes the amount of brandy and rum added would kill any bacteria. That being said, I was surprised after the first taste of this holiday traditional drink; I became a definite fan. It…is…GOOD! Although not passed down through generations, it is a tradition that started with my husband’s father in the early 1970’s; he passed down the recipe to my husband.

Getting set up with our Mix Master
Getting set up with our mix master

The creation of each year’s eggnog is a job in itself. It requires a five gallon utility bucket. Yep, you heard that right. The recipe calls for, amongst other things, pasteurized eggs, half & half, a rather large amount of whipping cream, and enough liquor to question the sanity of my father-in-law just for creating the recipe for this concoction. My husband always tells people, “There’s just enough to keep you warm.”

It’s quite a process! My husband will sometimes stay up late into the night making his yearly batch. He sits in the kitchen with our mix master and follows the recipe exactly. He usually surprises me with a small cup in the morning in order to get my verdict. Once he’s been given the “okay,” he will then package up generous portions and make the rounds to each of our friends in the area to distribute the eggnog. It’s something that we look forward to, and our family and friends do as well.

Just like his father did with him, he too has included our daughter in helping make it.

Of course, she does not get to partake in the taste test of the final product. Her favorite thing is licking the spoon after the whipping cream is made.

Our oldest, Zoey, helping with the family's eggnog
Our oldest, Zoey, helping with the family’s eggnog

We love our traditions, and they are moments that we can look forward to each year. Although I can not reveal the secrets to my family’s bubble bread, sugo, and Easter pizza, my father-in-law has graciously allowed me to share the recipe of the Swanson family eggnog.

Consider yourselves warned, because it is both good and addicting.


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Homemade Egg Nog
  1. Separate eggs. Beat yolks and sugar together. Add in rum, brandy, and nutmeg, half & half, and blend together. Beat egg whites and salt together until stiff (which you will be if you drink too much of this). Beat whipping cream in chilled bowl until stiff. Gently fold in egg whites and whipping cream with other mixture Let stand in refrigerator overnight. Serve with a dash of nutmeg on top. Serve the top foamy part to friends and drink the bottom liquid yourself!
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What traditions do you hope to pass on to your kids?

Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


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