The aromas and flavors of East End bounty beckon at holiday time. All that great seafood, roasted meats and home-grown produce on the plate demand home-grown beverages. Whether you raise a glass with loved ones to toast the season at home or in a fine local eating establishment, traditional beverages harken back to colonial times. In fact, harvests have been celebrated throughout the ages with libations and “good spirits.”
Southampton Town’s first families brought livestock and seeds from Massachusetts and England that flourished here on rich land. There’s no record of whether Thomas Halsey, farmer John Halsey’s ancestor, brought apple seed with him to Southampton in 1640. Early apples were mainly “cider apples,” harvested to press and barrel in order to guarantee a safe, intoxicating drink come winter.
After working in dairy farming as a young man, John Halsey started planting mainly eating apples in the 1960s. In 1969, he and his wife Evelyn opened the stand that has become the popular Milk Pail Fresh Market on Montauk Highway in Water Mill.
The apples didn’t fall far from the tree. John Halsey is largely retired from farming now, though he still leads wagon tours of the orchards during apple-picking season. Twelfth generation Mecox farmers, daughters Amy and Jennifer, carry on the Halsey legacy of farming and innovation. Some of their newest trees are test varieties for Cornell University, where Jennifer studied pomology. They’re so new they don’t have names yet, just numbers.
What’s the secret to that famously delicious, well-balanced Milk Pail cider?
“The apple varieties that make the cider vary by season, but my Dad perfected the blend of sweet to tart to create that bold apple flavor,” says Amy. Sister Jenn now carries on John’s work, balancing the mix of apples.
The Halseys offer their cider mulled at the store throughout the colder months. “We now use a mix that is very much the way we used to make the cider by scratch, but prepared to make processing easier,” says Amy. “I am of course very partial to our apple cider, the blend of apples along with the fact that ours is treated with ultraviolet light, and not pasteurized, makes a difference. This process retains the true apple flavors and nutrients fresh from nature, while surpassing the FDA requirements for safety.”
Mulling spices are available for purchase at the Milk Pail in an 8-pack and a 24-pack of individual packets, and in a larger muslin bag for mulling up a gallon of cider. “We found a company years ago that perfected a tea bag formulation to make single mugs at home,” says Amy.
“I enjoy hot spiced apple cider straight up, no amendments, and it must be Milk Pail cider, of course,” Amy continues. To enhance a festive mood, you might wish to add some equally spicy rum, such as Sag Harbor Rum, to your mug.
“The following recipe is how we used to make it on the farm,” says Amy. “It’s great to warm you up while on a brisk fall walk, while out ice boating or skating, and from your thermos on the ski slope.”
“Mulled cider is one of those things memories are made of — spending time with that favorite family member and having those memories for life. That young person will remember sipping that sweetness with you forever.”
HALSEY FAMILY MULLED CIDER
If you don’t care for the spices floating in the cider wrap them in cheesecloth and remove them when the cider is heated to your liking. Do not use a coffee urn to make cider or visa versa…each will taste like the other.—Amy Halsey, Milk Pail Fresh Market
1 gallon cider
3 to 4 cinnamon sticks
10 to 15 cloves
1 lemon, sliced
3 to 5 Tbsp. honey
- Simmer all the ingredients together until hot.
- Serve with Milk Pail apple cider doughnuts. (Dipping is encouraged.)
Eggnog dates to the Medieval era when it was believed to be a cure for the cold and flu. Its intense richness also led to its use in toasts to good health and prosperity. Eggnog has always provided a lot of calories for the hardworking American farmers.
On the Sound in Mattituck, farming couple Chris and Holly Browder of Browder’s Birds have made eggnog part of their annual celebrations since they began raising laying hens there a decade ago.
“Since we moved to the North Fork 10 years ago, we host a Homegrown Birthday & New Year’s Eve Party on December 31, Chris’s birthday,” says Holly. It’s a grand feast. “We ask guests to bring a locally grown dish and we smoke a pork shoulder (from either Mecox Bay Dairy farm or Deep Roots Farm) as a tribute to Chris’s Carolina roots.”
For years they served a traditional eggnog made with their own raw organic eggs, lots of rum, cream, and sugar to ring in the new year.
“But now that we have J.B., our three-year-old, our parties include children, so I started looking for an appropriate nog that the kids could also drink,” Holly says. “I also started eating less dairy so trying almond milk in the recipe was appealing. In the lighter version, the egg base is cooked, it’s like drinking custard that hasn’t set, and kids love it. Adults can always spike it.” Holly posted her recipe, shown below, to the farm’s website last December.
Here’s a healthy, dairy-free eggnog recipe just in time for the holidays. Brown liquors work best with eggnog, so to spike it try bourbon, dark rum or brandy.—Holly Browder, Browder’s Birds
4 cups unsweetened almond milk
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup raw honey
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- In a kitchen blender, add the almond milk, egg yolks, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, and then blend for a minute until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into a saucepan, add the whole cloves, and heat over medium heat.
- Cook the eggnog until it starts to thicken, about 10-15 minutes.It will be frothy at first.
- Let the mixture get hot but don’t simmer or boil. If it gets close to boiling, remove from the heat temporarily and whisk vigorously.
- Once thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Strain to remove the cloves, then place in an airtight container and chill 6-8 hours. To serve, sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon.
Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Aristodemos Pavlou takes a decidedly “adults-only” approach to eggnog. He often stations himself behind the bar at his restaurant, Bistro Été in Water Mill. “Chef’s cocktails,” such as his Cucumber Cosmo and his Bourbon Saba, made with grapes from Bridgehampton’s Channing Daughters Winery, typically feature local ingredients.
“We call it his ‘front-of-house kitchen’ because he treats the bar the same way, everything is precisely measured,” says Liz Pavlou, Chef Arie’s wife and bistro co-owner. “He follows his exacting recipes for all the drinks and he pre-batches many of the cocktails, then bottles and refrigerates them for the staff to serve.”
Chef Arie notes that “eggnog is basically crème anglaise,” a classic French dessert sauce. He whisks in some heavy cream after cooking to enrich and “lift” it. The result is a thick froth of a cocktail with a touch of ice, and it’s not at all “eggy.”
“Reposado tequila is better for this than rum or cognac,” Chef Arie says. “Rum is just going to hide.” Reposado means “rested,” referring to the fact that it has spent time in an oak barrel. As Chef Arie notes, “Reposado melds with the nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.”
RICH AND BOOZY EGGNOG
I recommend drinking this around family at holiday time. Adding more liquor to the mix breeds good will. This eggnog—sans tequila—may be poured into an ice cream maker to make eggnog ice cream. Try floating a scoop of this ice cream in bourbon for a real treat.—Chef Arie Pavlou, Bistro Été
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 cups milk
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
¾ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 oz. reposado tequila per serving
- Whisk the sugar into the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl.
- Scald the milk, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg in a saucepan.
- Whisk the milk mixture into the egg mixture gradually, stirring constantly. Transfer the mixture to a clean, heavy-bottomed saucepan. With a wooden spoon, gently stir until the mixture reaches 160° F. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Pour the mixture through a sieve and cool immediately in an ice bath.
- Whisk in 1 cup heavy cream and ¾ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg.
- For each drink: in a shaker, add liquor to taste with 3 ounces of egg mixture and shake each serving with ice to order. Strain into individual glasses.
Chocolate is never “local” on the East End, but another key ingredient in Chef Colin Ambrose’s holiday beverage of choice is. Just south of the Sag Harbor Village border Ambrose grew his first crop of Oaxacan Green Corn in the garden behind his restaurant, Estia’s Little Kitchen, over the summer. He’s been growing different strains of corn for the last 10 years. This year’s stalks grew to about 12 feet tall. Ambrose recently reduced the corn kernels to a fine meal.
He was wondering what to do with this harvest when he spotted an interesting recipe from Chef Maricela Vega in the Southern Foodways Alliance magazine The Local Palate. Her dish was a savory atole. “Atole,” or atol de elote, refers to any Mesoamerican porridge of cooked corn meal that was eaten as mush or drunk as a thin gruel.
Ambrose created a savory dish with corn, almond milk and cinnamon. His staff liked it and told him that in Mexico they would drink such a mixture. It put them in mind of champurrado, a chocolate-based atole, a warm and thick Mexican drink, prepared with masa harina or corn flour. “I’m always learning from them,” he says.
What evolved, his own atole de chocolate, has a very rich texture and flavor. “The corn makes it very viscous, which I like, much more than most ‘Mexican hot chocolate,’” Ambrose points out. “But you can thin it out if you’d like. It’s actually portable, you can take it camping or to the beach. Just bring along milk or water and drop it in a pot over the fire.” It’s also an easy dessert for entertaining, he adds, “allow it to cool and it firms into an equally delicious chocolate pudding.” As Ambrose says, “It’s the real thing.”
ATOLE de CHOCOLATE
Mexican Hot Chocolate
This is a plant-based recipe; milk may be used in place of the almond milk. I suggest using organic sugar whenever possible. Provisions Natural Foods Market & Organic Café in Sag Harbor carries an organic light brown sugar. If you consume dairy, try adding whipping cream whipped with a touch of Ancho Reyes Liqueur Ancho Chile or Kahlúa. — Chef Colin Ambrose, Estia’s Little Kitchen
2 cups water
½ Tbsp. crushed guajillo chile pepper
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
pinch of sea salt
2½ cups almond milk
½ cup fine cornmeal or masa harina
3 to 4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (or ¼ cup dark chocolate chips)
additional sugar to taste
Equipment: 2 small sauce pans
- Over low heat, bring the water to a simmer.
- Add the pepper, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
- In the second pan, simmer the almond milk. Add the cornmeal slowly, whisking constantly. When the cornmeal has been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, add the chocolate and continue to whisk until smooth again.
- Pour the sugar water mixture through a fine sieve into the almond milk mixture. Stir for a few minutes over low heat. Add water as needed to thin for serving. Froth with an immersion blender just before serving in mugs.
While all of these traditional drinks can be prepared and enjoyed at home, be assured that both Bistro Été and Estia’s Little Kitchen plan to have a lot of their boozy eggnog and atole de chocolate, respectively, on special through Thanksgiving. Cheers!
Milk Pail Fresh Market, 1346 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, 631-537-2565
Browder’s Birds, 4050 Soundview Avenue, Mattituck
Bistro Été, 760 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, 631-500-9085
Estia’s Little Kitchen, 1615 Sag Harbor Bridgehampton Turnpike, Sag Harbor, 631-725-1045
Stacy’s seasonal cookbook The Hamptons Kitchen, co-written with Bridgehampton’s Hillary Davis, will be released in April