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By Kevin Brown

Ahh, Eggnog, a boon to the holidays and, if mixed properly, enough liquid merriment to make any man feel like Old Saint Nick. We all love the potent concoction, and all partake, perhaps more than liberally, at the holidays. But in these modern times, few people realize that our beloved Eggnog is little more than a sad temperance de-evolution of a much stronger, much creamier, much earlier drink: The Tom and Jerry.

Also known, in some early drink references, as The Thomas and Jeremiah, The Tom and Jerry is mixed with whiskey, brandy, rum, sugar, medium cream, nutmeg and allspice. Start by mixing the egg yolk, 1/2 jigger of Jamaica rum, 1 dash allspice, 1 teaspoon powdered (not confectioners') sugar. Then add egg white and 1/4 ounce cognac or whiskey. Mix thoroughly. Pour this into a pre-warmed Tom and Jerry mug or goblet, adding 1/2 to one ounce of whiskey if desired. Fill the remainder of the mug with medium cream or water to taste. Stir, and top with fresh ground nutmeg. This is enough for one person, but generally Eggnogs and Tom and Jerrys are served for large groups, so simply increase the proportions relative to the size of your bowl.

The first Tom and Jerry dates back to the days of legendary barman Jerry Thomas. A lordly man of kingly disposition, Thomas is rightly the grandfather of the golden age of American bartending. Drinks such as the Martini, the Blue Blazer and the Tom and Jerry—the first 'Nog--are credited to him. Thomas' study of all things cocktail, The Bon Vivant's Companion, is occasionally available at used book stores.

Surprisingly, however, this concoction's name does not reference our revered backbar predecessor. Nor does the Tom and Jerry bear any relationship whatsoever to that raucous cat and mouse team of the same name. In actuality, the moniker is derived from the humorous 19th century characters in Pierce Egan's Life in London, Jerry Hawthorn and Corinthian Tom.

The proper service for the Tom and Jerry,  or really, for any Eggnog, takes the form of a large and heavy ceramic bowl accompanied by eight to twelve matching ceramic cups that resemble miniature coffee mugs. In elder times these were manufactured of a thick earthenware, generally glazed off-white and emblazoned with the gilded signifier "Tom and Jerry." Much like a good Griswold skillet, the unique qualities of the ceramic absorb a little of the essence of its contents. Over the years, old Tom and Jerry sets became family heirlooms, capturing in their materials the essences of innumerable joyous Yuletide gatherings. Today, these old sets, imbued permanently with the inescapable air of nutmeg, brandy, rum and cream, have become treasured collectibles. Later sets manufactured of glass and lesser ceramics, although perfectly functional, do not impart the aged essence of their elder counterparts. Tom and Jerry sets can occasionally be found at antique shops, flea markets and auctions.

So, this Christmas--or Hanukkah, or what have you—raise your cups with us in praise of the holiday spirit, the Tom and Jerry, and its creator, Professor Jerry Thomas. In doing so, may you witness the revival of an old tradition, one that will surely soften the edge on your in-laws, melt the icy disposition of modern day e-Scrooges, and lighten the spirits of another merry season!

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