Tom and Jerry
Here’s an interesting nugget of trivia: In 1821, Pierce Egan, a popular sports writer, wrote a book called Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, which was so popular that it was turned into a play that same year, Tom and Jerry, or Life in London. The story of the raucous Tom and Jerry was so popular that, in London, children playing in the streets were called “Tom and Jerry.” Later, in 1931, Tom and Jerry became cartoon characters for RKO Pictures, human cartoon characters, and they ended their run in 1933, not, maybe, what one would expect. A young animator, Joseph Barbera, was the scriptwriter at the RKO during that earlier run and would later join William Hanna in creating the cartoon cat and mouse for MGM that are probably familiar to everyone.
But back in 1821, Pierce Egan was looking for a way to popularize his new play when it came over to America. He added brandy to a traditional eggnog recipe, warmed it, and called it the Tom and Jerry. This drink became a huge fad in early America, and remained that way until Prohibition where it became a bit too complicated for the speakeasies. In 1932, Damon Runyon wrote “Dancing Dan’s Christmas,” where he describes the Tom and Jerry:
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.
In 2010, Mrs. Ferment read “Dancing Dan’s Christmas” and asked me to make a Tom and Jerry. But we lost some enthusiasm when we read the recipes for it the drink included undercooked eggs. Here’s Martha Stuart’s recipe for six servings:
Tom and Jerry
A festive mug at Christmas time
- 3 eggs, separated
- 3½ oz. of dark rum
- 3 Tbs. sugar
- ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground allspice and clove
- 1½ cups of milk
- 6 oz. brandy
- Fresh grated nutmeg, for garnish
- Whisk egg yolks with ½ oz. of rum and all the sugar.
- Stir in cinnamon, allspice, and clove.
- Whisk egg whites with an electric mixer in another bowl until egg whites are stiff.
- Gently but thoroughly fold whites into yolk mix.
- Heat milk in small saucepan until simmering.
- Divide egg mixture amongst six mugs, about ¼ cup each.
- Slowly pour ½ oz. of rum into each mug, stirring constantly to avoid curdling, then add 1 oz. of brandy.
- Pour ¼ cup of hot milk into each much and top with nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Now, despite the undercooked eggs, this is a great recipe to start with, and the recipe allows for more milk, which, when we eventually braved making it, we totally needed. It’s very strong with over 1.5 oz. of alcohol per mug. We found a balance with a bit less brandy and more milk, which meant equal amounts of rum and brandy (.5 oz. each) and at least .5 cup of milk. The creamier the milk the better, so I heartily recommend whole milk.
But about those eggs. Well, we tried to find pasteurized whole, fresh eggs, but we couldn’t, even at our local Whole Foods. So we followed two other rules-of-thumb, which I DO NOT RECOMMEND to anyone, anywhere, because there is no way to know if eggs are tainted with Salmonella, according to the FDA. However, my feeling is that cage-free chickens don’t lay Salmonella-tainted eggs, since cage-free chickens don’t eat their own shit. Mrs. Ferment believes that the alcohol will prevent Salmonella from blooming in the gut. There’s some support for this. Again, I do not recommend anyone rely on these. The FDA doesn’t want anyone eating eggs that haven’t been brought to 160°F. Eggs and alcohol have had a long tradition of going together—any drink that was called “Fizz” had egg whites to create the foam. But since the Salmonella scare, that tradition has been lost.
Yet the Tom and Jerry is quite delicious, if one is daring enough to make it. Our first serving was the high-octane recipe, which was creamy, rich, and was perfectly winter-friendly. The spices were warming but not overpowering. When there was less brandy in the second serving, the rum and brandy nicely sweetened the drink. We couldn’t make ourselves drink our third serving, because we were already tipsy and full. The remaining egg mixture, known as the batter, kept in the fridge, which I combined with milk, cold, and microwaved for two minutes the next day. It was creamy and custardy.
There’s eggnog aplenty on our grocery shelves, but the Tom and Jerry is unique in flavor and a great treat to make and serve, as long as one is willing to trust his fresh eggs.