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Kitchen Histories: The Tom and Jerry

by Sarah Lohman

Dec 17, 2012

Rich and warming, this historic winter cocktail is a welcome way to cheer winter's darkest days.

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman will comb Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.
“I had two small white mice in those days, one of which I called Tom and the other Jerry. I combined the abbreviations in the drink, as Jeremiah P. Thomas would have sounded rather heavy, and that wouldn’t have done for a beverage.”  — Jerry Thomas, The New York Times, December 16, 1885
The time was the late 19th century, and the beverage was the Tom and Jerry, a winter cocktail composed of whipped eggs, spices, sugar, alcohol and hot water that would “do your heartstrings good” when imbibed. Jerry Thomas was the most famous bartender of the era and he adopted the drink as his own, promoting it to general popularity. The bartender's fame rose in no small part because he decided to document his cocktail recipes; many barmen of that era considered their recipes trade secrets that were never to be revealed, and Thomas was the first to see the advantages in publishing his techniques to promote his fame. His 1862 book, How to Mix Drinks: or, The Bon-Vivant's Companion, includes some of the earliest recipes for America’s best-loved cocktails, as well as long-forgotten potables, like the Tom and Jerry. After Thomas’s death in 1885, the hot and creamy mixture fell out of vogue.
However, the Tom and Jerry was not lost: inexplicably, nearly a century after the drink’s creation, some of America’s best ceramic and glass makers began releasing Tom and Jerry punch sets. Search Etsy for “Tom and Jerry” and you’ll find fewer references to the cartoon cat and mouse than you’d expect; instead, you’ll find punch bowls and colorful mugs from the 1940s, decorated with wintertime scenes and emblazoned with the name of a once long-forgotten drink. So what accounted for the sudden resurgence in the popularity of the Tom and Jerry? Perhaps it was the trend towards home entertaining: as more people moved to the suburbs in the middle of the 20th century, punch became the perfect crowd pleaser. Its revival may have also been driven by marketing: the “Rums of Puerto Rico” launched an extensive advertising campaign in the early 1950s, advocating the making of what they called “colonial” drinks like the Tom and Jerry. These advertisements also played into a national nostalgia for pre-prohibition drinks that fueled the exhuming of many a 19th-century recipe.
Tom and Jerry is still popular in a very select area of the United States I would dub the Upper Midwest: Wisconsin, Minnesota and possibly the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not only is it whipped up in bars, but local grocery stores and bakeries sell pre-made, semi-shelf stable batters. These people live in the sort of frigid weather that makes me trust their knowledge of hot drinks, so perhaps we should all take their advice and spend our winter whipping up warm, creamy Tom and Jerrys.
Tom and Jerry Adapted from How to Mix Drinks: or, The Bon-Vivants Companion by Jerry Thomas, 1862 6 eggs, separated 1 cup sugar 1 tsp cream of tartar 1 tsp cinnamon or mixed spices (like an “apple pie” spice blend) 4 ounces Jamaican Rum ½ gallon milk Nutmeg 1. To the egg whites, add half the sugar and the cream of tartar. Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. The whites must be beaten first, before the yolks. 2. To the egg yolks, add the remaining sugar, spices, and rum. Beat with a hand mixer until light in color. 3. Fold egg whites, a little at a time, into the egg yolks “until the mixture attains the consistence of a light batter.” It will look like you’re getting ready to bake a cake. The batter is ready for use right away, but it is even better if refrigerated overnight: the flavors blend and mature, creating a sweeter, spicier batter. The batter may separate slightly, but only needs a bit of quick whisking. Display in a punch bowl when ready to serve. 4. Set a pan of milk over low heat on the stove. Allow it to gently warm, and let it sit on the burner while you're mixing the drink, adding more milk as needed. 5. To an appropriate mug, add 1 tablespoon of batter, 2 ounces of Jamaican Rum (the darker the rum, the better), and 2 ounces of brandy (I’m not a big brandy drinker, but it’s extremely pleasant in this drink). Stir vigorously with a fork, or small whisk, to combine. 6. Here’s the tricky part: slowly add one cup of hot milk to the batter and alcohol. Trickle the milk into the mug a little at a time while whisking constantly. If the milk is added too quickly, the eggs will cook unevenly and curdle. If done correctly, you will have a hot and creamy drink.
7. Top with freshly grated nutmeg. This recipe will serve a party of about 25 guests.

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Sarah Lohman