As Yuletide traditions go, they don't come much more classic than the Tom & Jerry. Bowls of this rich, boozy warmer were a staple at countless 19th century saloons after the season's first sign of snow. As a Christmas tradition, the ritual of breaking out the Tom & Jerry mugs lasted well into the Eisenhower administration; the link between the drink and the holiday was such that it was immortalized by Damon Runyon in Dancing Dan's Christmas, in 1931:
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old-time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
Changing tastes left this venerable holiday drink behind, but pockets of devotees still remain. Today, the Tom & Jerry is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, as lovers of classic cocktails try their hand at mixing a bowl. Preparing the batter does take a little work, but it can be doled out all day (and night) at holiday parties and Christmas gatherings. Basically a sort of hot eggnog, the drink may seem unfamiliar to contemporary palates; no worry, Tom & Jerry has a way of making friends real fast.
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.
- For the batter:
- 12 eggs, separated
- 1 pound sugar (add more if you prefer it sweeter)
- 2 ounces aged rum (Appleton Extra, Bacardi 8, and Cockspur are all good choices)
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- For each drink:
- 1 ounce brandy
- 1 ounce aged rum
- Hot milk
- Boiling water
- Grated nutmeg
For the batter: Beat the egg yolks well, then gradually whisk in the sugar. Add the rum and spices. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the yolk mixture until well mixed. Keep batter refrigerated until serving.
For serving: For each drink, put 2 ounces of batter into a toddy mug. Add 1 ounce each of brandy and aged rum (bourbon or rye whiskey also work well), and fill with equal parts hot milk and boiling water. Top with grated nutmeg. If using a small coffee cup or classic Tom & Jerry mug, you may wish to cut the serving size in half.