Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Page 11



Tom and Jerry: a Traditional Winter Holidays Drink




My wife recently bought a used bowl. It is not Jo-Ann’s custom to buy second-hand crockery, but the bowl she spotted in a shop had an especial appeal.

It was a near-match to the Tom and Jerry cups we’ve long had, though seldom used. Well, come to think of it, I don’t know that we’ve ever used them.

They were her parents’ cups, and I well remember the hot, frothy Tom and Jerrys they served in those cups around Christmas and New Year’s at their home in Garden Grove. Tom and Jerry batter is made with eggs. The whites are beaten until stiff; the yolks are beaten separately, with powdered sugar and cream of tartar added. The contents of one of the bowls are poured into the other—and there you have the batter. A spoonful of it is dropped in an individual mug, or a wad is plunked in a bowl. Equal parts of dark rum and brandy are splashed in (or just brandy), boiling water is added, the mixture is stirred, and cinnamon and/or nutmeg is sprinkled on top.

The purchase of the bowl caused us to wonder whether the name of the drink was inspired by the movie cartoon duo, or whether the cat-and-mouse team was named after the drink.

And the answer is…the drink has been around far longer than the earliest of flickers.

The Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig and Courier on July 15, 1841 published a poem with Prohibitionist sentiment, reading, in part:

“And some sipped Cordial, [¶] And some swagged Brandy, [¶] And some drank Toddy, [¶] Some Tom and Jerry, [¶] Others Rum of the Mountain dew. [¶] Ah! who can tell the countless graves  [¶] They filled with deluded slaves [to alcohol]!”

A San Francisco magazine called “California History” in 2004 published a letter from one Pat Effinger, dated March 1, 1850, to his brother, Mike, from San Francisco. Pat tells Mike about a saloon called the Garricks Head:

“This is the favorite resort of the best class of foreigners, English, French, and Spaniards. I must call your attention to that pretty black-eyed Creole standing behind the bar and in order to have a better view of her, we’ll get her to make us a Tom and Jerry. All the drinking saloons of the City have adopted this custom of placing pretty, saucy looking, active girls behind their bars.”

An 1864 Indiana Supreme Court opinion, in reciting the facts in a criminal case, mention two men coming into a bar and ordering “Tom and Jerries.”

The origin of the drink is uncertain. Here’s one tale (I offer no certificate of authenticity), published Jan. 11, 1887, in the Marion (Ohio) Daily Star, picked up from the Cleveland Press:

“[A] couple of young bloods named Tom and Jerry, in a Jersey town cut out on a lark one, night. They agreed between themselves to try every drink known to the barkeepers in the place. They got through with their scheme along toward daylight the next morning. Their heads were as large as cotton bales and their hair pulled like a team of street-car mules. They went into one more place before going home and asked the bartender to give them a new drink of some kind. The liquor juggler went to work in a careless, don’t care  sort of way. He beat some eggs into a froth, put in some sugar, and little hot water, a thimbleful of whisky and some nutmeg. Tom and Jerry swallowed the drinks and smacked their lips. They asked the name of the drink. The barkeeper said it was nameless. ‘Then call it Tom and Jerry,’ said the bloods, and it was a go.”

“TOM AND JERRY and ALL HOT DRINKS” could be procured in the Los Angeles Civic Center at the Cosmopolitan Saloon, at Main and Temple Streets, according to a Los Angeles newspaper called the “Evening Republican,” in its issue of April 9, 1877. (That establishment also offered “SAUER KRAUT AND WIENER WURST” and “OYSTERS AT ALL HOURS.”)

While that ad appeared in April, the drink, which is warm and warming, was generally associated with wintertime and the holidays.

The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 2, 1895, reflecting on the day before, observed that the “society of those old-time New Year friends, ‘Tom and Jerry,’ was much sought during the day….”

Tom and Jerrys continued as holiday favorites until national Prohibition went into effect in 1920. While bathtub gin was plentiful, homemade rum and brandy weren’t. (The effect of Prohibition on Yuletide revelry will be next week’s topic.)

There was a post-Prohibition resurgence of popularity of Tom and Jerrys, though the drink has sunk in status in recent years.

Be that as it may, my wife and I are having some friends over on Sunday, and I suspect we’ll be filling our long dormant cups with steaming, hot Tom and Jerrys.

Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company

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