Tom and Jerry

Traditional, American

In a 6 oz Tom and Jerry mug, add:

Half the mug full of Batter
0.5 oz Remy Martin Cognac
0.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
Boiling Water or Hot Milk to top

Add batter to a heated mug
Add spirits, stirring, then boiling water or milk, stirring
Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg

For Batter
Separate 4 eggs into white and yolks
Whip the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar until stiff
Beat egg yolks until thin
Fold in 0.75 Cup Powdered Sugar into egg yolks
Add a pinch of allspice, cinnamon, and cloves as desired
Fold in egg whites
Mix until light and frothy
Stir batter before each use

Makes enough for 8+ drinks

* * *

Imagine, if you will, a world without Santa Claus.  No workshop, no sleigh, no reindeer, no elves, no pictures at the mall, no cameos on Coca-Cola cans.  No Santa.  Period.  Take a moment; we’ll wait.  According to John Lennon, it’s easy to imagine no Heaven, but Santa – nope, can’t do it.  Despite being a relatively modern character, at least in his present form, Santa Claus and Christmas are inseparable.  Sure, had he never existed in the first place, then we could probably convince ourselves that life would have gone on in some parallel capacity, but to erase him tomorrow? Again, impossible.  So, you can probably imagine how a pair of roustabouts by the names of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and Corinthian Tom (not to forget companion Bob Logic, of course) must feel about the forgotten nature of their eponymous beverage:  the Tom and Jerry.

But before we join Tom and Jerry on their misadventures, we must first become acquainted with a man called Pierce Egan.  In the early 19th century, Egan was England’s premier sports reporter, and by sports, we primarily mean boxing and horse racing.  Egan was no stranger to the “fast” life pursued by young English gentlemen – what Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy got up to behind Elizabeth Bennet’s back (Austen and Egan were contemporaries) – and in 1821, he began publishing the accounts of three men of the sporting set, a work entitled “Life in London or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis” – which pretty much tells you what to expect from the pages therein.

“Life in London” was an immediate smash.  The European Magazine (Nov., 1821) proclaimed it “one of the most amusing books ever published.”  In the story, country-dwelling Jerry Hawthorn is shown “the pleasures of the town” by his rakish cousin, Corinthian Tom and Oxonian (a member of the University of Oxford) Bob Logic, the group’s comic relief, “whose comic mug was always on the grin”.  What follows is “mainly drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting, and other branches of debauchery, either practiced or contemplated by the friends” (so sayeth the Cambridge History of English and American Literature).  Over the course of the narrative, the trio journeys from the highest of highs (at Almack’s social club, with the Duke of Clarence watching as they dance) to the lowest of lows (cock-fighting and worse).  But what really sold the book were the pictures by the brothers Cruikshank (George and the lesser-known Isaac Robert).

William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of “Vanity Fair”, tells us of his boyhood fondness for the book and its heroes, saying, “They were the school-boy’s delight; and in the days when the work appeared, we firmly believed the three heroes above named to be types of the most elegant, fashionable young fellows the town afforded, and thought their occupations and amusements were those of all high-bred English gentlemen.”  Indeed, Thackeray tells us that “Life in London” was the kind of book young boys secretly enjoyed by hiding it behind more serious tomes – much like hiding a Playboy behind a Time magazine.  At the time of its publication, the English public had been crazed for sporting books and sporting art of all sorts.  Egan’s own “Boxiana” (you can guess what it was about) was a great success, and it occurred to him that if Londoners were keen on books about traditional sports, they might be just as intrigued by a book chronicling the daring-dos of the urban gentleman (accompanied, of course, by the Cruikshanks’ twenty-four beautiful illustrations).  And, boy, were they.

By the summer of 1822, more than sixty-five imitations, with titles such as “Real Life In London; or, The Rambles and Adventures Of BOB TALLYHO, Esq. and His Cousin, The Hon. TOM DASHALL, &c., through the Metropolis.  Exhibiting a Living Picture of Fashionable Characters, Manners, and Amusements in High and Low Life” were hitting the streets.  Plays based on Tom and Jerry were running simultaneously in no less than ten theatres.  Fashion was overrun with Corinthian shapes and Tom and Jerry patterns.

Concurrently, “Life in London” was translated into French with the subtitle “containing the most faithful notices of the character, manners, and customs of the English nation”, which of course, was a slight against the English. The French critics, who praised the work on one level, also cautioned the French public that the book did “include several long digressions, and some circumstances which would wound delicacy and French taste at the same time”.  Like what? you ask ( I am so very glad that you did).  Like Jacco Maccacco.

I could try to describe Jacco Maccacco to you, but it really is best to let the book speak for itself here.  To set the scene, Tom, Jerry, and Logic are hanging out with some other sporting types, enjoying punch and “segars” when someone asks them if they’re up for a bit of fun, fun which is described on a card which they are handed:

Surprising Novelty in the Sporting Circle.
On Tuesday next, September 5, at Seven o’clock in the Evening,

A special grand Combat will be decided at the Westminster Pit,
Between that extraordinary and celebrated creature, the famed Italian Monkey,


of Hoxton, third cousin to the renowned Theodore Magocco, of unrivalled fame, and a Dog of 20 lbs. weight, the property of a Nobleman, well-known in the circle.

N.B. The owner of the Monkey having purchased him at a great expense, on account of his wonderful talents, begs to notice to his friends of the Fancy that another person has started a match, with a common Monkey, on the day preceding this match, with an intent to injure him and deceive the public.

After which, a Dog-fight, for Ten Pounds, between the Camberwell Black And Tanned Dog and the well-known Stratford Dog; and a match between two Bitches, the property of two Gentlemen well known in the Fancy. To conclude with Bear-fighting.

That is simply one of the most gloriously absurd passages I have ever read.  And, it’s all true.  Jacco, the dog-fighting monkey (third cousin of Theo. Magocco, mind you), and the bear-fighting – that’s what English gentlemen did for sport in 1820.  And to top it off, that scene came accompanied by this Cruikshank picture:

Wisely, Egan employed a device similar to what Hawthorne would later use in “The Scarlet Letter” – he neither condoned nor condemned the actions contained within his book; instead, he proclaimed to simply provide a “camera obscura” view of the metropolis, which he offered “not only from its safety, but because it is so snug, and also possessing the invaluable advantages of SEEING and not being seen.”  In his own way, Egan had created a 19th century mash-up of The Hangover and TMZ – voyeuristic hedonism, if you will.  And, by 1823, Tom and Jerry fever had crossed the Atlantic to New York.

Somewhere in all of this –between 1821 and 1835 – the Tom and Jerry drink appears to have been invented.  Before we find reference to the drink, we see the term “Tom and Jerry Shop” springing up in 1831 (“The Moral Reformer”, England) and clearly defined in 1832 (“Royal Commission for the Trial of the Prisoners Implicated in the Bristol Riots”, England), when one John Tankins testifies that he “saw them go into Mrs. Pugsley’s; it is a new Tom-and-Jerry shop, that is a beer-shop”.  Obviously, at this time, the term was new enough to still merit some further clarification.

Now, specifically when and where the moniker “Tom and Jerry” first applied to a drink is open for debate.  The great Jerry Thomas claims to have invented the drink in 1847, a claim which is debunked by Eric Felten in “How’s Your Drink?”  Felten points to a roll-call of “Death’s Allies” published in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier in 1841, which lists Tom and Jerry alongside the Toddy, Punch, and Flip as drinks doing the Grim Reaper’s work.  However, the 1835 “Rambler in North America” by Charles Joseph La Trobe includes the drink in the following passage: “As to the rest, it was agreed by the majority of the good people of Tallahassee, to go on drinking and stimulating with mint-julep, mint-sling, bitters, hail-stone, snow-storm, apple-toddy, punch, Tom and Jerry, eggnogg—and to remain dram-drinkers and tipplers, if not absolute drunkards.”  And that’s the earliest mention I could find.

We do know that in the subsequent century, Tom and Jerry, the drink, would sweep America much the same way that “Life in London” swept up the mother country.  By 1932, its prominence was such that newspaperman and author Damon Runyon wrote:  “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…”

Indeed, for much of the late 19th century and early 20th century, it simply wasn’t Christmas without Tom and Jerry.  Key to enjoying a proper Tom and Jerry was, of course, a Tom and Jerry set – a punch bowl and matching mugs all exclaiming “Tom and Jerry” on them.  Indeed, this ubiquitous punch bowl was our own first introduction to the drink, some fifteen years ago.  Lesley and I have always been fond of road trips, which inevitably seem to lead up to some antique store or other.  Time and time again, we would stumble upon Tom and Jerry sets.  At some point in the last fifty years, the drink had simply begun to go out of style.  This may have had something to do with the radical shift in America’s liquor habits once vodka came onto the market.  Or the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s, youth culture rose and anything that was considered old-hat got shoved by the wayside.  Is this what happened to the Tom and Jerry?  I don’t have the proof, but it’s likely.  However it happened, the Tom and Jerry sets that used to grace all good households began to filter into America’s antique shops.  When we decided to do our Christmas drinks, there was no question about Tom and Jerry being among them.  Naturally, we needed to get a proper set for the drink.  As expected, we found one in the very first antique store we visited – for the low price of $25 to boot.

Of course, you could make up a whole bowl of the drink, but we advise that you assemble them on an individual basis, which will assure that each drink is properly warm.  The bowl can be used to hold the batter, as it was in Jerry Thomas’ day – just be sure to stir the mix up prior to each drink, as it will separate, and thoroughly stir the drink as you add spirits and water.  If you follow cocktail blogs or trends at all, you’re certain to have run across more than one recommendation for Tom and Jerry this holiday season.  Our friend, Adam Elmegirab, braving an arctic Aberdeen winter, has been practically living off the stuff (we exaggerate, but you get the point).  When made properly, the Tom and Jerry displays a beautiful balance of spirits-to-batter-to-water.  If yours seems a little cattywampus, give it another try – a small bit of technique is required.

If our friends in Scotland can do it, I think, this Christmas, it’s time that we all heed the advice of Felten to do our “part to revive a lost American tradition” and once again enjoy a bowl of Tom and Jerry.  That, or we bring back the dog-fighting monkeys.

Esoterica: Eric Felten tells us that when it came time for President Benjamin Harrison to appoint his cabinet (1889), he was unable to give positions to both Thomas Palmer and Jeremiah Rusk because “it would never do to have Tom and Jerry at Cabinet meetings.”


12 responses to “Tom and Jerry

  1. Thanks so much for reminding me about that book!!! I remember reading it a thousand years ago and found it then (as now) a magical window into a lost past full of colorful characters and forgotten pursuits of pleasure. I am ordering it right now!!! Great great post, I loved it and haven’t had a Tom and Jerry in years…. must give it a run again!!!

  2. I’ve never heard of those books; I’ll have to look them up. The drink sounds delicious. I’m loving the mixture of scholarship and boozing in this blog; it’s perfect, perfect, perfect.

  3. Mmmm… it looks fairly nice to me. I never thought x-mas drinks could be so gorgeous.

  4. Amazing post! This goes into my recommended reading list for the week, in first place! Thank you!

    BTW, the full Bartender’s Guide from Jerry Thomas is available on Classic Mixology, including the Tom and Jerry:

    • Thank you, Brian — very nice of you to day. The T&J story was a lot of fun to dig into. Our recipe, btw, is a mash-up of Thomas’s and Eric Felten’s plus some experimentation to find a perfect balance withing the glass.

      For anyone who reads this, check out Brian’s site Classic Mixology. It’s a great resource.

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