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Dean's Corner – Tom and Jerry Sets


There are, in thousands of homes across the America, large bowls emblazoned with “Tom and Jerry,” accompanied by matching mug-like cups. The ones we remember were white milk glass with colorful scenes and words.

With unknown or obscure purposes, these sets, similar to punch sets, are finding their way onto the secondary market. These sets evoke nostalgia and seem to have hit their high in post WWII America - just long enough ago to be remembered and perhaps due for a revival in popularity.  So, curiosity regarding the history and intended use of these sets prompted a journey to learn more about them. One clue is that the print on the sets often appears in red and green. So the initial notion was that the sets were for serving drinks during the Christmas season. But we found more.

“Tom and Jerry” was a commonplace phrase for youngsters in riotous behavior in nineteenth-century London. The term derives from the book “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” (1821) by Pierce Egan. A savvy promoter, Egan, to publicize his work, made up a variation of the common winter drink eggnog and called it "Tom and Jerry." It added 1/2 ounce of brandy to the basic recipe, which fortified it considerably and added further to the popularity of the phrase and his book.

Unlike eggnog, Tom and Jerry is served warm or hot. It is a batter that is added to a hot drink, a dollop to spice up a pre-existing hot beverage. Today many comment that “Tom and Jerry” is a lot of work to make, but it is not complex. For a festive wintertime warm drink it is full of aroma and warmth that justifies the modest preparation time.

One of the many possible recipes calls for 4 eggs separated, yolks in one bowl, whites in the second. Then 1 cup powdered sugar is added to each bowl. Each mixture is then beaten, the egg white mix beaten until it makes soft peaks. Then the two batches are folded together, and a bit of vanilla is added, to taste. In each mug or Tom and Jerry cup, place 1 ounce of rum or brandy (or some suggest an equal mix of 1/2 ounce of each) to the mug, add batter, pour in hot water to fill the cup, top with nutmeg and/or cinnamon. How big to make the dollops of Tom and Jerry for each cup depends on how thick and strong you wish the drink to be. Experiment! This batch should make Tom and Jerry for 4 to 6 drinks.

For children, leave out the alcohol and the drink works very well, especially for an after-sledding or snowman-building drink, where it ranks close to hot chocolate. Colored sprinkles on top make it a certain pleaser for youngsters. It seems the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry are better known today than the beverage, which came first, and to which the famous cat and mouse cartoon character names pay tribute.

Interestingly, the Tom and Jerry beverage seems to have become more popular in the United States than anywhere else. The drink remains popular today in the upper Midwest and some places in New England. It is little known in the south. Pubs in Boston offer it at holiday time and in the winter season. In Wisconsin, Minnesota, and surrounds, a pre-made mix of Tom and Jerry appears in grocery stores in the winter months.

Tom and Jerry bowls and mugs have been made in fine crystal, practical kitchen glass, and varying grades of china. Chances are, there is a set that matches your fancy, and would hold a batch of this warm, fun drink at your next social gathering!

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