12.11.2007

Tom and Jerrys: A Christmas Tradition

My father didn’t spend much time in the kitchen during my childhood when it came to cooking or cleaning. Being the traditional man he was, the woman’s place was in the kitchen and he understood that. To coin his own phase, he seemed like a “bull in a china closet”, feeling awkward and out of place when he tried to help stir a sauce or make coffee. The kitchen was Mom’s domain.

The roles reversed one time a year. A Christmas tradition in my hometown was that friends would stop in before and after Christmas, share a tray of cookies or other holiday fare. Then people would have a Tom and Jerry. My dad was famous in Kellogg for his Tom and Jerrys .

About a week before Christmas each year the process of making Tom and Jerry batter once again became a day long project in the kitchen at our house We knew when it was that time. Super fine sugar showed up on the grocery list.
“Pert, I can never find superfine sugar at Stein’s IGA” my mom would complain.
“Can’t make a good batter for Tom and Jerry’s with regular sugar….it doesn’t taste right,” Dad would grumble.
The grocery sacks would contain dozens of eggs, that hard to find superfine sugar, and nutmeg.

The other important ingredient that required Dad’s expertise was “the booze”. Dad would get cheap whiskey and rum from the liquor store. The only time bottles from the liquor store would appear was during the Christmas season. He would mix it together in a clear decanter that appeared from the basement each year. I can remember pulling out the decorative stopper and getting a whiff of strong whiskey.
“ I get the rotgut booze for the Tom and Jerry mix”, he would explain to a friend. “ You don’t want to waste a good bottle of V.O. or Black Velvet on these drinks.”

Dad had a few days off for Christmas. The ingredients had all been assembled in the kitchen. My brother and I pulled up to the couch in the living room to watch Dad’s annual ritual come alive.

The first step to making the batter is cracking the eggs and dividing the yolks from the whites. Mom had a little gadget that sat on a cup , leaving the yolk on the top, dropping the white into the cup. Dad didn’t believe in using that gadget. He wanted to do the eggs his own way. We sat with anticipation each year, knowing the fun was about to begin. Dad had this uncanny way of ruining the egg separation process. It explained two things. Why Mom always brought extra eggs home for Tom and Jerry batter and why we put out the Cuss Box.

Dad used a different four letter word each time the eggs didn’t get separated correctly. We had coins ready to add to the Cuss Box. In later years Dad was named” Billy Goat Gruff” during this ritual because he grumbled and got gruff if we asked any question about what was going on in the kitchen. Another house rule was you never went into the kitchen during any step of the batter assembling.

My dad was relaxed about certain things, but when it came to his time in the kitchen, he wanted perfection. It seemed like it took four cartons of eggs to reach the number needed to begin whipping. Next always was the mixer fiasco. Dad didn’t quite have the finesse to get the beaters in right or know how much liquid to put in the bowl before the eggs splattered all over the kitchen. You also had to move the black circle from small bowl to large bowl. This was before the days of Kitchen Aids and splatter guards. Dad managed to get through the rest of the batter making without more drama.

Next out came the tradition bowl and little cups. They were hidden away in a sacred place the rest of the year, only to be brought out , washed, dried and ready for celebration. The white bowl had Tom and Jerrys written in green an old English lettering , surrounded by green holly. The cups matched.
After the batter was perfected it went in the refrigerator and the cups went next to the decanter, waiting for the first testers.

When we got our first Tom and Jerry of the season, ours were without the booze. Later in life we learned those were called virgin drinks. Thus, another ritual played out. Dad heated up hot water in the tea kettle, poured hot water over the cups then filled our cups with water, added batter, then sprinkled nutmeg on top. We seemed to get all batter in our cups. The sweet foamy taste is a memory that takes me back to Christmas season.
Mom would always want one close to ours-lots of batter. She didn’t seem to like the blend of cheap liquors, but would take a bit. It marked one of those rare times we saw Mom have a drink.
After we left home Dad became a legend with is Tom and Jerrys . He was invited to a local bar each December to make the concoctions for an evening.

You always look back on a memory and realize that perhaps the time wasn’t quite as long to make the batter. Maybe there weren’t as many mistakes dividing the eggs. My sister and I decided two Christmas’ ago to begin the tradition again. I arrived home for the holidays a bit late. She called and asked if I was going to come up early and make the Tom and Jerrys.
“Do we have time? Doesn’t it take hours?” I asked nervously, not wanted to throw off the Christmas Eve dinner plans.
“Just come and do it,” she said.
It took about fifteen minutes to make the batter. We only used 12 eggs. We didn’t get the rotgut booze. Now they have premade blends at the liquor store.
As I heated my own cup, carefully measured the liquor, poured in the bowling water, dropping the batter on top, and sprinkling it with nutmeg I thought of Dad. I thought of all the people I run into when I return home during the holiday season. that say, “Nobody made a Tom and Jerry like your Dad.”
They were right. Dad had a touch we couldn’t quite duplicate. We had a recipe, the bowl and the mugs, but something was missing. Perhaps just the memory from childhood was sweeter somehow.
The mugs and bowl above where a gift from my sister last year. The picture shows Dad in my childhood kitchen one Christmas whipping up his batter. This was an original sibling assignment before I had a blog. You can find my brother Raymond Pert’s here.
Here is the closest recipe we could find to duplicate Dad’s Tom and Jerrys:
12 whole eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 oz brandy
2 oz rum
hot water (or warm milk can be substituted)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until it forms soft peaks. In another mixing bowl (large), whisk the egg yokes until they become frothy. Fold the stiff whites into the yokes. Add the sugar and whisk it all together to form a stiff batter.
Place a tablespoon or more of the batter into a warm beer mug. Add 2 oz brandy, 2 oz rum, and fill the rest of the mug with hot water. Mix together well. Top with nutmeg. Serve and enjoy.

8 comments:

  1. Let me be the first to say how much we enjoyed this post. I say 'we' because Dave was up early too and I read the whole thing to him as he nodded, laughed and went on and on about the mugs they had in Mullan & Cd'A, etc. and how his dad made them every year too. What a great memory and written so well, as usual.
    Thanks for sharing. You made our day.

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  2. I'm baaack! lol I loved virgin Tom & Jerrys as a kid but it was in a jar. Great job dad!

    I hope all is well and Happy Holidays.

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  3. I loved reading this story. What a fabulous recipe - it sounds very Christmasy - I've never heard of Tom and Jerrys.

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  4. I, too, never heard of Tom and Jerrys...not as a drink anyway. When I saw the title, I thought it was going to be about the Tom and Jerry's Ice Cream made in Vermont!!! Nonetheless, an interesting story, and a great memory.

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  5. Noni... I guess it was a Silver Valley tradition. I am glad the two of you enjoyed it. The rest of you better try them... very good !

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  6. a beautiful reminisce. You really ought to send this post into the magazine: Reminisce.

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  7. We had a family friend, Rita Gilman who made Tom and Jerry's every year. When we went to their house in Pinehurst, My sis and I got to drink the virgin ones while the old folks drank the real thing. They were really good. Rita was well-known for her cooking skills, and she also made carmel dumplings around Christmastime. (Very rich dessert.)


    I often wonder if Tom and Jerry's were a precurser off eggnog - or the inbiber's answer to eggnog. Maybe their original name was "Grogg"??

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  8. Reading this brought back so many memories of my own. My father also made Tom and Jerry's. He too had a decanter that held the magical mix of booze. It was always a big production, especially cooking the sugar syrup to a certain stage where it would spin a thread of a certain length. Our Tom and Jerry set was white with red polkadots. It is mine now. We'll have to compare recipes.

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