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Kitchen Histories: The Tom and Jerry

Dec 17, 2012

by Sarah Lohman handmade and vintage goods

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman will comb Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.

“I had two small white mice in those days, one of which I called Tom and the other Jerry. I combined the abbreviations in the drink, as Jeremiah P. Thomas would have sounded rather heavy, and that wouldn’t have done for a beverage.”  — Jerry Thomas, The New York Times, December 16, 1885

The time was the late 19th century, and the beverage was the Tom and Jerry, a winter cocktail composed of whipped eggs, spices, sugar, alcohol and hot water that would “do your heartstrings good” when imbibed. Jerry Thomas was the most famous bartender of the era and he adopted the drink as his own, promoting it to general popularity. The bartender’s fame rose in no small part because he decided to document his cocktail recipes; many barmen of that era considered their recipes trade secrets that were never to be revealed, and Thomas was the first to see the advantages in publishing his techniques to promote his fame. His 1862 book, How to Mix Drinks: or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, includes some of the earliest recipes for America’s best-loved cocktails, as well as long-forgotten potables, like the Tom and Jerry. After Thomas’s death in 1885, the hot and creamy mixture fell out of vogue.

However, the Tom and Jerry was not lost: inexplicably, nearly a century after the drink’s creation, some of America’s best ceramic and glass makers began releasing Tom and Jerry punch sets. Search Etsy for “Tom and Jerry” and you’ll find fewer references to the cartoon cat and mouse than you’d expect; instead, you’ll find punch bowls and colorful mugs from the 1940s, decorated with wintertime scenes and emblazoned with the name of a once long-forgotten drink.

So what accounted for the sudden resurgence in the popularity of the Tom and Jerry? Perhaps it was the trend towards home entertaining: as more people moved to the suburbs in the middle of the 20th century, punch became the perfect crowd pleaser. Its revival may have also been driven by marketing: the “Rums of Puerto Rico” launched an extensive advertising campaign in the early 1950s, advocating the making of what they called “colonial” drinks like the Tom and Jerry. These advertisements also played into a national nostalgia for pre-prohibition drinks that fueled the exhuming of many a 19th-century recipe.

Tom and Jerry is still popular in a very select area of the United States I would dub the Upper Midwest: Wisconsin, Minnesota and possibly the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not only is it whipped up in bars, but local grocery stores and bakeries sell pre-made, semi-shelf stable batters. These people live in the sort of frigid weather that makes me trust their knowledge of hot drinks, so perhaps we should all take their advice and spend our winter whipping up warm, creamy Tom and Jerrys.

Tom and Jerry
Adapted from How to Mix Drinks: or, The Bon-Vivants Companion by Jerry Thomas, 1862

6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp cinnamon or mixed spices (like an “apple pie” spice blend)
4 ounces Jamaican Rum
½ gallon milk

1. To the egg whites, add half the sugar and the cream of tartar. Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. The whites must be beaten first, before the yolks.

2. To the egg yolks, add the remaining sugar, spices, and rum. Beat with a hand mixer until light in color.

3. Fold egg whites, a little at a time, into the egg yolks “until the mixture attains the consistence of a light batter.” It will look like you’re getting ready to bake a cake. The batter is ready for use right away, but it is even better if refrigerated overnight: the flavors blend and mature, creating a sweeter, spicier batter. The batter may separate slightly, but only needs a bit of quick whisking. Display in a punch bowl when ready to serve.

4. Set a pan of milk over low heat on the stove. Allow it to gently warm, and let it sit on the burner while you’re mixing the drink, adding more milk as needed.

5. To an appropriate mug, add 1 tablespoon of batter, 2 ounces of Jamaican Rum (the darker the rum, the better), and 2 ounces of brandy (I’m not a big brandy drinker, but it’s extremely pleasant in this drink). Stir vigorously with a fork, or small whisk, to combine.

6. Here’s the tricky part: slowly add one cup of hot milk to the batter and alcohol. Trickle the milk into the mug a little at a time while whisking constantly. If the milk is added too quickly, the eggs will cook unevenly and curdle. If done correctly, you will have a hot and creamy drink.

Sarah Lohman

7. Top with freshly grated nutmeg. This recipe will serve a party of about 25 guests.

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1 Featured Comment

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 8 years ago Featured

    I live in Minnesota, so am familiar with the Tom and Jerry. I am grateful to see people like Sarah recreating antique recipes so they are not lost to history. Tasting the past, I believe, is just as important as seeing it or hearing it or touching it. And because we don't have audio or motion picture recordings prior to the late 1800's, there is a communion we can experience with earlier times by *tasting* these dishes which we could not otherwise experience.



    Marcie Adams - Commercial Use Digital Graphics and Printable Art from HAUTEGRAPHIQUE said 8 years ago

    Sarah! What an awesome blog featuring Tom and Jerry! This is fantastic reading! Thank you!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 8 years ago

    Love :)

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 8 years ago

    So whoever was the creator of Tom & Jerry cartoons must have known about the existence of these very real mice of Jeremiahs. The drink sounds delicious and its connection to the show is so remote but obvious. I guess I'll have to whip up a batch and drink it while watching cartoons. Cool. I can actually justify both drinking and watching cartoons in one fell swoop. Thanks!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 8 years ago


  • tararie

    Tara from tararie said 8 years ago

    I never knew that! I always thought it was another character thing other than the cat and mouse and not actually a drink. I would love to try it. Egg Nog is my favorite holiday drink. This sounds wonderful being warm. Great article. Happy Holidays!!

  • ShannaMicheleDesigns

    Shanna Michele from ShannaMicheleDesigns said 8 years ago

    the blog is fascinating, having a good read through it right now!

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 8 years ago

    Fascinating! Great story and recipe.

  • Nachokitty

    Nachokitty from Nachokitty said 8 years ago

    I found a 1930s Caliornia pottery Tom & Jerry set years ago. It's in all the right colors: turquoise, orange, cobalt, yellow, etc. There's a main bowl and sevearl mugs. I have adored it due to the colors but never knew the history of the Tom & Jerry part, which was impressed into the clay. Maybe now I'll whip up the drink and serve it in the set. Thanks for an educational blog post!

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 8 years ago

    This drink looks yummy. An interesting history, too.

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 8 years ago Featured

    I live in Minnesota, so am familiar with the Tom and Jerry. I am grateful to see people like Sarah recreating antique recipes so they are not lost to history. Tasting the past, I believe, is just as important as seeing it or hearing it or touching it. And because we don't have audio or motion picture recordings prior to the late 1800's, there is a communion we can experience with earlier times by *tasting* these dishes which we could not otherwise experience.

  • solocosmo

    Jessica Grundy from solocosmo said 8 years ago

    I need to make this drink now...

  • beardandbang

    heidi and dan from beardandbang said 8 years ago

    I had no idea! I would see these cups around the thrift store and I thought they were personalized dishes for a couple named Tom and Jerry. Ha! Very interesting article, thanks!

  • lcarlsonjewelry

    Liesl Carlson from lcarlsonjewelry said 8 years ago

    Love this!! Thank you, I love all of your blog posts. Happy holidays !!!!

  • beadbooty

    Tricia from beadbooty said 8 years ago

    I've seen the Tom & Jerry sets in antique stores forever but never knew anything about the history. Thanks, Sarah, for the history!

  • GrandmaKathysQuilts

    Kathy Ann from GrandmaKathysQuilts said 8 years ago

    I am from the midwest and have enjoyed the drink at many parties, never knew about the mugs and punch bowls. Now I will need to have one to go along with the next time I make the drink!!! Thanks.

  • CufflinkStall

    Andrew Dawson from CufflinkStall said 8 years ago

    Hey great blog.

  • valeriephoto

    Valerie from valeriestitchery said 8 years ago

    I'm from Michigan, but never came across this. I guess I wasn't old enough to drink when I moved away. Maybe that's why. Interesting history. I've never heard of this. Some of the sets are beautiful.

  • floresdelsur

    Marisa Kraiselburd from floresdelsur said 8 years ago

    It looks so yummy... Can´t wait to try it!!

  • whatMARLAlikes

    Marla Miller from whatMARLAlikes said 8 years ago

    Love the article about egg nog and history of the glassware. I do own 2 different versions of the white with red and green. Also own the carmel colored set. I want to try this recipe but your instructions say to add brandy along with the rum. But you do not have brandy listed as an ingredient... Is there a certain kind and how much do you use?

  • laceyanne29

    Lacey Schoeneman from TheEclecticHome said 8 years ago

    It sounds quite similar to the hot buttered rum recipe my dad makes every Christmas. I do love a hot, adult drink on a cold, snowy day.

  • whatMARLAlikes

    Marla Miller from whatMARLAlikes said 8 years ago

    Sorry I see how much

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye from VintageEye said 8 years ago

    Bottoms up to vintage! :)

  • vintagebutterfly94

    Vanessa Ryerse from TheClassicButterfly said 8 years ago

    I've always wondered!!!! Thanks so much for this post! And frankly, it sounds delicious!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 8 years ago

    Here in the UK, eggs, milk & sugar mixed up is called custard & is served on all kinds of desserts such as apple pie, rhubarb crumble or even the humble jelly (jell-o) Although making spiced and/or boozy custard is fairly widespread amongst adult households during the holidays, I would never have thought to actually drink the stuff, but I suppose in a cup it's handy for dunking mince pies!

  • hasincla

    hasincla from travelwanderings said 8 years ago

    Wow, sounds like a challenge. And I love a challenge! I learned some history, and also that I can make a fun winter drink other than eggnog or cider!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 8 years ago

    BTW, that Fire King set is truly spectacular, who wouldn't want to serve the correct beverage in a set like that?

  • weezieduzzit

    weezieduzzit from weezieduzzit said 8 years ago

    Forgotten about? Out of fashion? You're running with the wrong crowd! Classic cocktails are always in style and the right barware is essential!

  • lauraprill

    Laura Prill from lauraprill said 8 years ago

    Mom still has a Fire King set, brings back lots of memories for me.

  • CafePrimrose

    Amanda Gynther from CafePrimrose said 8 years ago

    oh my gods! yumness!

  • gracieileen

    gracieileen said 8 years ago

    You have no idea how happy this post made me. As a Minnesotan now living in New York, I've talked about Tom and Jerry's for years and been met with blank stares. If I make it home for Christmas I know I'll be able to have one in my uncle's special mug, but this year I'm staying in NYC there are no mixes in the grocery store. Clearly I had to find my own recipe and educate my eastern friends. My grandmother's copy of Joy of Cooking had one, thankfully, and now yours! Happy times.

  • pinksnakejewelry

    kim rhodes-thomas from pinksnakejewelry said 8 years ago

    Very Interesting Post!!!! Love to try!!!

  • brightgraystudio

    brightgraystudio said 8 years ago

    I was recently at a vintage store in Chicago and they had a bunch of different punch bowls that all said Tom & Jerry and wondered what the heck the cartoons had to do with those punch bowls, so now that makes much more sense!

  • StoneDesignsbySheila

    Sheila Davis from StoneDesignsbySheila said 8 years ago

    We were just talking about this at a Christmas party last night. No one knew what was in a Tom and we know!

  • misschristiana

    Christiana Odum from YarnDarlin said 8 years ago

    Looks delish! I'll have to try it!

  • ModRendition

    Amy Wilens from ModRendition said 8 years ago

    Great piece, Sarah! Loved reading it and learning the history of the drink!

  • jamasters

    Jess Masters from RefinedRock said 8 years ago

    sounds like something we would drink in the midwest!

  • olfactoryscents

    Julie Kinney from olfactoryscents said 8 years ago

    another minnesotan here. just bought a tub of flaherty's tom and jerry mix this week and now this fantastic read. thanks for the history and the recipe!

  • HandmadeIsAllAround

    HandmadeIsAllAround from iammieOWLshop said 8 years ago

    Love it!

  • trudydarman

    Trudy Darman said 8 years ago

    This is excellent! Since I've moved to Texas I've not found the batter which was in every Wisconsin grocery store, and also MN & MI. It's delicious on a holiday night, a treat.

  • dahlilafound

    Dahlila S. from dahlilafound said 8 years ago

    I grew up in deep snow country & mom always served Tom & Jerry's (virgin, for us kids) at parties, & through the holidays--the pre-made jar kind. Such memories in that wonderful spicy warm cup of goodness. Now, I have to make some. Nostalgic, that I am. Thank you for posting this.

  • opendoorstudio

    Martha Layton Smith from opendoorstudio said 8 years ago

    Patrick said it all! great feature and I have been looking all over for my grandpas recipe for egg nog! sounds similar! Merry Christmas and Happy celebrating to all!

  • SheCountsCrows

    melissa saint from SheCountsCrows said 8 years ago

    I am hugely enjoying your articles, Sarah. Very interesting and fun!

  • zoliann

    S. DeSantis from zoliann said 8 years ago

    Not that I rely on Wikipedia for empirical evidence of any kind, but the Wikipedia link to Tom and Jerry you provide actually suggests this drink has no relation whatsoever to the bartender, Jerry Thomas. Curious...drink still sounds delicious though.

  • Mrsplopsshoppe

    Catherine Lane from MrsPlopsShoppe said 8 years ago

    I also live in the UK and I've never heard of this! I'm T-total (how you spell that I have no idea!) Totally drink Tea? lol. Anyway,as a total tea drinker, even I'm tempted by this. I really enjoyed this blog. Thank you :)

  • PurelyDelicate

    Emma V from TheMiniMango said 8 years ago

    Sounds delicious! Copied the recipe down and can't wait to try it out! Thanks so much!

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 8 years ago

    Love These!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 8 years ago

    I'd never heard of this before sounds like a variation on egg nog which I've also never had! I was a bit worried about the eggs in this but I guess you cook them so its ok : )

  • Babsbuttons

    Babsbuttons said 8 years ago

    Here in NW Wisconsin I have purchased the refrigerated, locally made batter at my grocery store and made it by the mugful. Yummy! I own a wonderful red and green polka dot milk glass punch bowl that, although it doesn't say "Tom and Jerry" on it would be perfect for a batch. How does one work with the recipe to make an entire bowlful?

  • emwi

    Emily Wirt from emwi said 8 years ago

    Historic gastronomist sounds like the coolest profession. This recipe looks great. Thanks for sharing!

  • inturquoisesky

    asu from THEFAIRYTHINGS said 8 years ago

    Interesting... Thanks....

  • bluecrystallady

    crystallady from garteronly said 8 years ago

    Great, Thanks.

  • lorenabr

    Balea-Raitz from LorenasLaceDesigns said 8 years ago

    Very cool!

  • reets612

    Rita Scott from RitasGarden said 8 years ago

    I always wondered what drink the Tom and Jerry was after seeing sets at thrift I know! Thanks for the info!

  • Parachute425

    Terry from Parachute425 said 8 years ago

    Fascinating! Thanks. I saw a set like these in a Salvation Army store a while back and had no idea of the background.

  • FourPoundsFlour

    Sarah Lohman from FourPoundsFlour said 8 years ago

    Thank you everyone! And thanks for your encouragement as this series has developed! I just want to note that Thomas didn't event this recipe, but claimed that he did because of its convenient name. He's definitely the one that made it popular. Happy Holidays, everyone!

  • FourPoundsFlour

    Sarah Lohman from FourPoundsFlour said 8 years ago

    Oh--and I just posted some interesting source material on my blog, a Tom and Jerry recipe from the 1950s:

  • mae2

    Madeline Elliott from modernmala said 8 years ago

    YUM! :D

  • aisglass

    Aiste from Aisglass said 8 years ago

    Incredible article! Beautiful items:)

  • gossamer531

    Gossamer Tearoom from TheGossamerTearoom said 8 years ago

    I remember my parents buying tubs of the Tom and Jerry batter from my father's favorite liquor store and they would have drinks of it around Christmastime every year. I never knew it was supposed to have rum and brandy in it because they made it with his favorite whisky instead and would make a non-alcholic version for me! I preferred just having eggnog from a box, but I remember being fascinated by the name and asking them over and over, "So, why is it called Tom and Jerry?" They didn't have an answer for me, so now I know!

  • LayneDesign

    LayneDesign from LayneDesign said 8 years ago

    I am in Western NY about an hour south of Buffalo. We drink these every Christmas, everyone does in this area. It has been part of Christmas as long as I can remember. We also drink glög. It is a home made spiced whiskey. It is about 190 proof though but yummy and drank warm.

  • ampeifer

    ampeifer said 8 years ago

    My dad loves Tom and Jerry's- every Christmas Eve making mug after mug from the tub of batter. Maybe this year we'll make it from scratch- thanks for the recipe!

  • newhopebeading

    newhopebeading from newhopebeading said 8 years ago

    I have never heard of this... it sounds very yummy! Thanks for sharing

  • GoldenSpiralDesigns

    Lola Ocian from GoldenSpiralDesigns said 8 years ago

    Crazy! This was the first alcoholic drink I'd ever had. I was 16 and mom let me have a small cup of it because it was Christmas and snowing. It was so delicious, the memory has stayed with me, but I couldn't for the life of me, remember what was in it. When I would try and explain it to people, everyone seemed insistent that it was a hot toddy. I've tried hot toddies since but none were as creamy or seasonally spiced as the drink I remember. This was definitely it! How exciting! Thanks for reminding me of this magical drink. Stay warm!

  • butikonline83

    Hendri . from butikonline83 said 8 years ago

    Nice art works! Congrats!

  • rosyblu

    Michelle Urbick from RosyBluVintage said 8 years ago

    I love this article! Tom and Jerry's are a tradition in my family--they were my grandma's favorite. We're Minnesotan--there's just something about those warm drinks on a cold and festive winter night!

  • lauraslastditch

    Last Ditch Laura from LaurasLastDitch said 8 years ago

    Thank you! As many times as I've seen these sets (and even though I specialize in vintage kitchenwares), I had NO idea these were made for a specific drink.

  • ricknamors

    Rick Namors from ricknamors said 8 years ago

    At the January wedding of my father in Palatine, Illinois we served these to warm up the joyful gatherers who became even more joyful!! They became from that time on a family tradition!

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 8 years ago

    This sounds great. Thank you. I did not know the history and it was a fun and interesting read.

  • kariegrogan

    Karie Grogan from kariegrogan said 6 years ago

    I would also like to know how to serve this at a party to a large group using my vintage bowl set? Do I serve the batter in the bowl and have people mix their own? Or do I make a batch and have people use a ladle and fill their individual cup? If I were to make a large batch, it probably wouldn't be hot:/

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