The Last T&J;?


Do you know Tom and Jerry? It's a demographic question. If you do, you're showing either your age or your regional roots.

Tom and Jerry is a cocktail that used to cozy up with eggnog during the holiday season. But the Tom and Jerry (nicknamed T&J;) has gone the way of white bucks and the phonograph. For that matter, eggnog itself is gradually declining in popularity.

Part of the reason is one thing that T&Js; and eggnog have in common: raw eggs. The possibility of food poisoning from salmonella has some drinkers changing habits or updating old recipes. Eggnog's dip in popularity polls is also due to concern about fat and cholesterol.

These days, say the bartenders at Musso & Frank in Hollywood, the Regal Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles and the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, getting an order for a Tom & Jerry is as likely as snow in Los Angeles.

"The Tom and Jerry drinker belongs to another generation," says Norman Bukofzer, head barman at the Ritz-Carlton, New York. "Last time I made one was 1982."

T&Js; remain popular with those over 50 and Midwesterners. In Wisconsin, Minnesota and Upper Michigan, they're easy to find at neighborhood bars any time after Thanksgiving. No one knows why, other than the connection between cold weather and bone-thawing rich hot drinks.

A Tom and Jerry is simply rum mixed with brandy or bourbon and boiling water, enriched with a sweetened egg batter similar to meringue base. It's served in a warmed mug, sprinkled with nutmeg.

T&Js; have been known to impart rosy cheeks and make jolly people jollier. In our family, Tom-and-Jerrying was an excuse for my brothers' rowdy behavior and my father's invitation to the neighborhood for a "shovel-the-walk" party--snow or no snow. For those who finally reached the age where brandy or Scotch didn't taste vile, tavern-hopping for T&Js; was a rite of Christmas vacation.

Part of the ritual was unearthing "the set." Like the martini, the T&J; has its own paraphernalia. My parent's black ceramic Tom & Jerry bowl, bought from a hotel supply store, came with a dozen gold-lettered mugs. A set isn't necessary--but neither is candlelight.

Where did the Tom and Jerry come from? One theory is that it was created by a pioneer American mixologist, "Professor" Jeremiah Jerry Thomas, author of "How to Mix Drinks" and "The Bon-Vivant's Companion." Thomas barnstormed the country in the 1820s with public demos of his drink-mixing skills, picking up new recipes along the way and modifying them to suit his customers' tastes. At the Planter's House in St. Louis, he is said to have modified an old Danish punch bowl drink, the Copenhagen, which became the Tom and Jerry.

A well-made T&J; requires a good stiff batter and warmed mugs. Debate has long raged in the T&J; crowd about whether the batter should be added to the empty mug before the hot liquid or dropped in heaping tablespoons after it.

You can buy T&J; batter in the frozen food section of many supermarkets. It's not as light, fluffy, foamy and fresh-tasting as homemade batter.

At the 50-year-old Anchor Inn in Madison, Wis., bartenders use the store-bought product. In its frozen state, it looks like a grainy, pale yellow-colored putty. Added to the hot drink, it melts and spreads like pancake batter.

"We serve T&Js; out of tradition, not demand," says Anchor Inn owner Bruce Stoflet. His customers, usually middle-aged and older, pay $3 for a mug that contains an ounce each of rum and brandy.

If Anchor Inn customers are nervous about salmonella, Stoflet isn't aware of it. Fear of bacteria isn't a problem since the commercially made batter is pasteurized and the process kills salmonella bacteria.

"If a customer wants eggnog from scratch, I'll make it," says bartender Bukofzer. "But I tell him the risk. His, not ours."

Faking a good eggnog is easy, he insists. The key is using plenty of whipped cream, half and half and nutmeg. "You're after a rich, thick mouth-feel, that's all," he says.

There are ways to make your own egg-based drinks that are safe, says Sue Giordano, dietitian with University of California Cooperative Extension. "Those drink recipes were written before salmonella made them a problem," she says. "They need to be rewritten."

She advises using frozen egg substitutes, which are pasteurized. Always cook or microwave homemade eggnog or batter to 160 degrees, or until the egg mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon. And always keep the finished product in the refrigerator.

* Goblet from Malibu Colony and Laguna Colony.

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