The Tom and Jerry’s origins are frequently traced back to a publicity stunt orchestrated by British journalist, Pierce Egan. The story goes that he added brandy to eggnog to create a signature cocktail to promote his 1821 book, Life in London. A subsequent play based on the book, Tom and Jerry, or Life in London, has additionally been associated with the beverage. While this remains unverified, Egan’s work did make a meaningful contribution to the drinking world: the phrase “Tom and Jerrying” which means indulging in loud, drunken behavior.
No definitive records exist about the drink’s first appearance stateside, but in 1862, the famed New York bartender Jerry Thomas published a recipe for a Tom and Jerry in his book, “How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-viant’s Companion.” (great title)
Historians are unclear as to why the Tom and Jerry became such a Christmas staple in the Midwestern United States, but it was popular enough to merit a cottage industry of Tom and Jerry drink sets, consisting of punch bowls and mugs inscribed with the drink’s name in Old English font. Milk glass Tom and Jerry sets were fairly common in the 1940s through the 60s. A New York Times article about the cocktail quotes author Jim Draeger, who surmised that the Tom and Jerry became a Wisconsin staple because the state has an affinity for brandy drinks, and is also a dairy state. Perhaps more than anything, the intense cold of the American Midwest has arguably solidified this warming drink’s staying power in the winter drinking traditions of the region.
- 6 eggs
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 ounce Jamaica rum
- ¾ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ cup sugar
- Brandy or rum
- Boiling water or hot milk
- Grated nutmeg, to garnish
- Separate the eggs. Beat the whites with cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks, then beat the yolks until they are, according to Thomas, “thin as water.”
- Add the spices and rum to the yolks, and continue stirring until incorporated. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
- Thicken the mixture with sugar until it has the consistency of a light batter.
- Serve in standard coffee mugs. In each mug, mix two tablespoons of the batter with three tablespoons of brandy or rum. Top off with milk or water, or a combination of the two. Grate fresh nutmeg over the surface and serve.
note: we are currently dealing with blustery winds, blowing snow, white-outs, and single-digit – below zero temps, and i have always lived in the midwest (in michigan), but have never encountered or heard of this drink. any readers out there ever had this?
“heap on more wood – the wind is chill;
but let it whistle as it will,
we’ll keep our christmas merry still.”
-sir walter scott
source credits: gastro obscura: rohini chaki, photo-sam o’brien, nyt