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Deconstructing the Tom & Jerry

Deconstructing the Tom & Jerry

A Wisconsinite’s Ode to Tradition

Growing up in central Wisconsin, I knew that one thing always signified the start of the holiday season: countless plastic tubs of Tom and Jerry batter stacked up in the local grocery store’s dairy section.

And, as the snow kept flying, it seemed everyone was serving up the beloved winter cocktail, from aunties passing around froth-topped festive mugs at family gatherings to the townie bar serving them in Styrofoam cups during its annual Christmas party. I always assumed this warm, creamy beverage was a national treasure. It turns out, however, that this cocktail is specific to mostly Wisconsin and Minnesota. All my Michigan co-workers, in fact, thought I was referring to the cartoon whenever I mentioned drinking a Tom and Jerry.

As with most cocktails, more than one person has claimed to be the originator of the Tom and Jerry, but it’s mostly accepted throughout the cocktail world that British writer Pierce Egan created it in the early 1800s as a way to promote his novel, “Life in London.” (You can guess what the main characters were named.)

Wisconsinites would most likely tell you that the essential ingredient is brandy, but really what makes or breaks this cozy antidote to winter’s bitter cold is the batter. The traditional recipe consists of eggs—separated so the whites can be beaten until stiff—mixed with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. The batter is then scooped into a warmed mug, topped with rum, brandy and hot water. A good batter will create a rich, frothy mouthfeel.

While there are good companies out there making quality batter you can pre-order, it’s important to avoid the brands using thickening agents and artificial flavors or sweeteners. The resulting cocktail will only be gummy and taste like aspartame. 

The best route is to go homemade. Find eggs from local chickens for good color. Replace water with oat milk for a depth of flavor that will be your little secret. Whatever you do, make a big enough batch to share with neighbors and family. It’s the Wisconsin way.

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