Monday, December 10, 2007
Me and Tom & Jerry
In terms of cuisine, my family had a strange relationship with Christmas. The night before Christmas meant my father's preferred meal of oyster stew, a tradition he carried over from his childhood. I never did understand its origins and never met another soul who celebrated the night that way. Christmas Day could mean anything from lasagna to chicken breasts stuffed with cheese to chicken curry; we never once had ham or turkey.
And when it was time for a libation, nobody every suggested egg nog. It was Tom & Jerrys all the way. Growing up, I thought everyone drank Tom and Jerrys on Christmas. I only learned different when I went away to college, and when I moved to New York City shortly after, I discovered that most of the population not only abstained from the drink, but didn't even know what the hell it was. The cartoon, they knew. The drink, no.
The Tom & Jerry dates back the stone age of cocktails, going back nearly 200 years. Many are under the misconception that bartender extraordinaire Jerry Thomas invented it (Jerry himself was one of them). Whoever did come up with it, the thing was a smash. No yuletide throughout much of the 19th century was celebrated without bowls upon bowls of the egg-laden, spice-haven, rum and brandy-laced concoction. You can still find Tom & Jerry bowls and cups on eBay and in antique stores.
The Tom & Jerry waned with the rise of the cold cocktail and pretty much died with Prohibition. But for some reason, it retained a grip on the upper Midwest, including my home state of Wisconsin. Can't say why. It may be because hot drinks remain attractive in cold climates. It could be Wisconsin's strange attachment to brandy. Anyway, my parent never did without their Tom & Jerry on Dec. 25. Neither did their friends. It was so popular that Tom & Jerry "mix" could be purchased at any grocery store or liquor shop.
I never remember liking the drink. It just seemed like hot water laced with bad booze and milk, topped with cinnamon. It's very possible my parents didn't make a top notch Tom & Jerry. (Very possible.) Ten years ago, I found some Tom & Jerry mugs at a stoop sale, and honored the occasion by trying to mix up a batch of hooch on my own. Again, it was awful, but, in fairness, I recall having bought fairly cheap rum and brandy. (This was before my spirits re-education.) After that I gave up.
In researching a recent article for the New York Sun about holiday drinks, however, my curiosity has again been aroused. I know what should be done, now, and will give it a shot again this X-mas. First, however, I may drop by The Pegu Club where, I'm told, Audrey Saunders mixes up a bad Tom & Jerry. I obviously need instruction
Labels: tom and jerry