Tom and Jerry for Christmas

I spent a lot of time last weekend de-stressing in front of and around the television watching Turner Classic Movies, to which my little set is almost permanently tuned. There were old Christmas movies on, and it seemed like every time I looked up from whatever I was doing various characters were getting tipsy on a seasonal drink called a “Tom and Jerry”. It appeared to be an eggnog-like concoction but I had never heard of it: what was it and where did it go? I did a little Google research, and turned up multiple recipes, images of vintage Tom and Jerry punch bowls and cups (which got me even more curious and excited), and some nice sentimental articles about this “all-American” drink’s survival in the upper Midwest. Tom and Jerry is a lighter eggnog variant, which utilizes many eggs but milk (or even water, see below) instead of cream, sugar and spices and rum and brandy, and is typically served warm. Based on the sheer survival of all the punch sets on the second-hand market alone, it must have been very popular in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

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Just one of many Tom & Jerry bowls on Etsy, Vintage mid-century Fire King.

This old drink has nothing to do with the cat and mouse cartoon: according to my (exclusively internet, I must admit) sources, its origins can be traced to either an extraordinary 1821 book by a British journalist, Pierce Egan, titled Life in London, or, The day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis or to a legendary nineteenth-century American bartender named Jerry Thomas whose pioneering 1862 mixologist tome How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion featured a recipe for the Tom and Jerry. No one seems to have connected all the dots between the popular British Tom and Jerry characters and the American drink, but the recipe seems very British to me, reminiscent of all the frothy “lambswool”- like drinks of centuries past. And no matter, I’m always more interested in the search for the source rather than the actual commodity/consumable, and the research into the drink’s origins led me to Egan’s text, featuring his Tom and Jerry characters exploring the highs and lows of London society with delightful illustrations by the Cruikshank brothers. Alcohol was definitely a major part of their exploits.

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Illustrations/scenes from Pierce Egan’s Life in London, British Library.

And I also discovered Jerry Thomas’s Bon-Vivant’s Companion which is available in many reprint editions as well as here. I could spend some time with this book, but for now, and for the holidays, here is his Tom and Jerry recipe (for a crowd):

To make the batter:  5 lbs sugar/ 12 eggs/ a half glass Jamaica rum/ 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon/ ½ tsp. ground cloves/ ½ tsp. allspice. Beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, and the yolks until they are as thin as water, then mix together and add the spices and rum, thicken with sugar until the mixture attains the consistence of a light batter.

To deal out Tom and Jerry to customers: Take a small bar glass, and to one tablespoon of the batter, add one wine-glass of brandy, and fill the glass with boiling water, then grate a little nutmeg on top.


4 responses to “Tom and Jerry for Christmas

  • Lynn and David

    Very fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  • helenbreen01

    Hi Donna,

    “Based on the sheer survival of all the punch sets on the second-hand market alone, it must have been very popular in the middle decades of the twentieth century.” You got that right. In my day punch bowl sets with a dozen matching cups were de rigueur for new brides. (Not easy to store, by the way.)

    Great background about Tom and Gerry. Love the Cruikshank prints – so London…

    Like

  • sam

    You’re right that it’s survived and was much enjoyed your Christmas all over the Midwest. My
    Father used to make them every Christmas and we had a Tom and Jerry set. After World War II Tom and Jerry’s were a huge deal in the Midwest. I suggest if you guys decide to try this you heat ceramic cups on low in your oven. Heat the milk on the stove. Then put a small shot of rum in the bottom of the cup pour the batter over the top and then the milk stir top with fresh ground cinnamon and nutmeg and if you’re really brave and not going out of the house were driving you can top it with a little cognac The alcohol evaporates into the bubbles mixes with the sugar and is pretty potent so make sure you’re staying home when you drink this. There really good and what is enough — a small one. Kids will enjoy it just make sure you don’t put the room in the bottom of the cup when you make it for them. It’s a recipe well worth bringing back.

    Like

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