Tom and Jerry isn’t just the cartoon dramatization of the bitter, timeless rivalry between cat and mouse. It’s also a cocktail, a warm, eggnog-y drink that used to basically be liquid Christmas. Except we forgot it, thanks in part to Big Eggnog and its corporate stranglehold on the holiday beverage market, and yeah, also probably because creamy, sweet, high maintenance alcoholic drinks aren’t very much in vogue these days. But it’s the holiday season, and what better time to rationalize the combination, and public consumption, of dairy and booze?
It’s a shame that Tom and Jerry went out of fashion (only the ever-loyal Midwest held on). Not only is it a bit lighter than traditional eggnog (yeah, there’s still a dozen eggs, but no cream! Just whole milk!) but it’s all-American. Except for the fact that it may have been invented by a British guy. As the story goes, it was either British journalist Pierce Egan or legendary bartending founding father, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, who invented the drink. Egan was supposed to have created the drink in the early 1800s to get publicity for his book, Life in London; or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. If that’s the case, that would be some of the earliest cross-promotional marketing we’ve seen (and yes, we’ve seen those Subway ads for Star Wars).
The other claim is that Jerry Thomas first developed the drink—and that’s hard not to believe considering how prolific the guy was (also, when Dave Wondrich says something, we tend to believe it). Though when it comes to recipes, we’ll go with the one attributed to Egan (it has warm milk, whereas Thomas’s recipe has warm water—easy choice, right?).
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Should you make it? Yes. Sure, in an era of bourbon sipping and thoughtful Scotch drinking, a drink that requires separating twelve eggs and garnishing with wintry spices might seem a little quaint—and labor intensive. But it’s worth the trouble. Tom and Jerrys weren’t just popular as a way to warm up. They’re really, really good. They’re so good, in fact, they actually made special “Tom and Jerry” punch bowls and mugs, which you can find if you poke around the Internet, or an antique store or thrift shop). You don’t have to have special punch bowls or mugs to drink the stuff. Just be willing to do a little work. (Think of it as anticipatory calorie burning.)
The way the recipe works is pretty neat, actually. Basically you make a “batter” out of eggs, sugar, spices, and a bit of brandy. After you fold in some beaten egg whites, you put this batter into your Tom and Jerry mug (though a Peanuts Christmas mug will also do just fine) and add more liquor and hot milk.
The Classic Tom and Jerry, Adapted from Dave Wondrich and Esquire.com
- 12 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar (some recipes call for confectioners’ sugar)
- 1 bottle brandy
- Ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves
- 1 bottle dark rum (or bourbon, your call)
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside. Beat the egg yolks until they are lighter lemon-yellow colored. Add the sugar and beat (very) well to incorporate. Add a pinch of the spices to your taste and finish by adding 4 ounces of brandy and folding in the egg whites. Set the milk to warm on the stove (make sure it doesn’t boil over, because doesn’t milk just love to do that). When you’re ready to serve, put a tablespoon of batter in a mug. Add another ounce of brandy and an ounce of bourbon or rum, stirring constantly to keep the mixture from curdling. (No matter how delicious the ingredients are, nobody likes a chunky Christmas cocktail.) Now add the warm milk, and stir to develop a nice foam. Grate some fresh nutmeg on top and knock that sucker back. Or sip, since it’s hot…