When Tom Met Jerry


Maybe every other barfly around has heard of the Tom & Jerry cocktail, but I’d never heard of it when I stumbled across a vat of "Tom and Jerry Batter" in the freezer of a liquor store in Madison, Wisconsin. Far be it from me to turn down a drink mix, though, despite the fact that information on the tub was scarce—just ingredients ("Sugar, pasteurized whole eggs, water, egg white stabilizer, artificial flavoring. THE VERY BEST!") and instructions (add hot water, rum and brandy.) There was no brand name, just a small indication that it was produced by a Wisconsin bakery.

miller's pub
The Tom & Jerry, I learned, dates back to the 19th century but crested in popularity in the 1960s (see the 1969 Gourmet recipe here.) The real deal requires whipped eggs, sugar, booze, a warmed mug and a dusting of spices. Like cone bras, aspic sculpture, and the Iron Curtain, this drink takes a lot of effort to construct, and is actually pretty fragile. Even at Tom and Jerry's, a bar on New York's Lower East Side named after the drink, they only make it one night a year, at their holiday party, one of the bartenders told me, because it's too much effort to make properly and keep on hand.

So the store-bought stuff may mark some sort of a comeback for the Tom and Jerry, but if you make your own, or stumble upon it at a bar (Chicago's Miller's Pub is whipping it up these days) you'll see that it's simply got to be made fresh. The industrial Tom and Jerry batter is about as much of a 1960s revival as Madam Tussaud's model of Khrushchev: evocative, yes, and also scary, immobile, waxy, and sinister.

In the car, leaving the liquor store in Wisconsin, some friends and I ripped into the batter and watched it slowly reconstitute a slick surface in its vat. My friends seemed puzzled, smacking their mouths:

"Is there sand in here?"
"It won't get off my finger."
"It tastes like polluted air."

Evocative of melting plastic and sugar, with rum and brandy it tasted like melting plastic, sugar, and booze. As a shortcut for a toasty winter beverage, it doesn't work. But it might be handy otherwise. I'm using it right now to shellack my beehive.

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