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Silver Threads: Food for the gods

The other day while looking for Christmas gifts in one of those chain stores that sells goods from around the world — but don’t they all, these days? — I came across something called winenog.

That got me to thinking about REAL eggnog, which was a Christmas treat that I’ve not sampled for almost 70 years. And I guess I need to explain how I got some of the delectable alcoholic stuff at age 7 or so.

But first, a little background for younger readers: At my grandmother’s house in the country the kitchen help still “churned” when I was a little kid. Churning was the energetic act of agitating fresh milk — in a tall crock with the up and down motion of a wooden paddle — until the cream in it separated and began to turn into little specks of butter. These were then captured, pressed together to get all the milky water out, formed into a cake — and, voila! Land o’ Lakes. Just kidding. (I could probably get a more accurate scientific explanation of churning by Googling it, but that wouldn’t be as much fun, and memory serves well enough here. What was left was buttermilk, and you’re not a true old Southerner unless you’ve savored a glassful with cornbread crumbled in.)

Cream was taken off the top of unchurned milk for use in coffee and desserts and such — and, at Christmastime, traditional eggnog. We Tuckers — probably about 35 of us — would gather around my grandmother’s big kitchen tables and by the light of her many kerosene lamps watch one or two or three of the uncles concoct it in an oversized dishpan.

“You’ve got to add enough whiskey to cook the eggs real good,” invariably called one of the aunts from a corner of the room, and, indeed, Tucker eggnog came out thick and yummy and kind of brownish.

Before the adults were served, tablespoons each carrying a heaping serving of the stuff were put into cups and presented to the kids, who had been standing by waiting for their share. We licked at it delicately with our tongues, sucked at it lightly from the point of the spoon, and made it last as long as we could.

Remembering that eggnog got me to thinking about another treat that our family served mostly if not exclusively at Christmastime. Ambrosia. Food of the gods.

I did Google ambrosia, and after briefly reading of its place in Greek mythology and a rock band of that name formed 40 or so years ago, found a recipe calling for mostly oranges, which explains why I didn’t much like it as a child. My mother, with the best of intentions, had tried to disguise a dose of castor oil in a half cup of orange juice, thus putting me off that healthful fruit for many years.

Anyhow, ambrosia — a dessert or salad — is made of orange segments, crushed pineapple, maraschino cherries for colorful eye-appeal and lots of grated coconut. It can be mixed with heavy cream, or sour cream or both, and I once used a recipe that called for the addition of mini marshmallows. Food for the gods.

Other Christmastime foods for the gods that I’ve learned to love since growing up and moving to New Orleans include oyster dressing. Don’t you just feel sorry for Yankees who eat mashed potatoes with their holiday turkeys?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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