Excerpt from “Dancing Dan’s Christmas,” from Blue Plate Special, by Damon Runyon, 1931
Now one time it comes on Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein’s little speakeasy in West Forth-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him.
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old-time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
But anybody will tell you that there is nothing that brings out the true holiday spirit like hot Tom and Jerry, and I hear that since Tom and Jerry goes out of style in the United States, the holiday spirit is never quite the same.
The reason hot Tom and Jerry goes out of style is because it is necessary to use rum and one thing and another in making Tom and Jerry, and naturally when rum becomes illegal in this country Tom and Jerry is also against the law, because rum is something that is very hard to get around town these days.
For a while some people try making hot Tom and Jerry without putting rum in it, but somehow it never has the same old holiday spirit, so nearly everybody finally gives up in disgust, and this is not surprising, as making Tom and Jerry is by no means child’s play. In fact, it takes quite an expert to make good Tom and Jerry, and in the days when it is not illegal a good hot Tom and Jerry maker commands good wages and many friends.
Now of course Good Time Charley and I are not using rum in the Tom and Jerry we are making, as we do not wish to do anything illegal. What we are using is rye whisky that Good Time Charley gets on a doctor’s prescription from a drug store, as we are personally drinking this hot Tom and Jerry and naturally we are not foolish enough to use any of Good Time Charley’s own rye in it.
The prescription for the rye whisky comes from old Doc Moggs, who prescribes it for Good Time Charley’s rheumatism in case Charley happens to get any rheumatism, as Doc Moggs says there is nothing better for rheumatism than rye whisky, especially if it is made up in a hot Tom and Jerry. In fact, old Doc Moggs comes around and has a few seidels of hot Tom and Jerry with us for his own rheumatism.
He comes around during the afternoon, for Good Time Charley and I start making this Tom and Jerry early in the day, so as to be sure to have enough to last us over Christmas, and it is now along toward six o’clock, and our holiday spirit is practically one hundred per cent.
Yes, I’ve done the Tom & Jerry before, but in the spirit of the season — and in consideration of the gazillions of people googling for this right now — I wanted to dig out this great Runyon passage that I feeble-mindedly half-remembered last year, and share it with … well, with regular visitors and casual googlers alike.
Tom & Jerry, for a crowd
- 12 eggs, separated
- 1 pound sugar
- 2 ounces aged rum (Appleton V/X, Bacardi 8 and Havana Club Anejo work well, along with many others)
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice (or 1 oz pimento dram)
Beat the egg yolks until thin, and gradually whisk in the sugar. Add the rum & spices. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the yolk mixture until well mixed.
For each drink, put 2 ounces of batter into a toddy mug (you may want to scale that back if using a smaller mug or coffee cup). Add 1 ounce each of brandy and aged rum (or bourbon, or rye, a la Good Time Charley) and fill mug with equal parts hot milk and boiling water. Top with grated nutmeg.
For those keeping score, this is a different recipe than the Audrey Saunders version from last year. Open a dozen cocktail manuals and you’ll find as many different variations on the Tom & Jerry. That’s okay — the punch is easily customized, and the above version is in the direction my personal taste is currently taking me.
Like it sweeter? More sugar. Spicier? Ramp up the allspice and cloves. Richer? More milk, less water. Boozier? You can figure that out. You’ve found the right recipe when it tastes good to you and your guests, and when it leaves your holiday spirit practically one hundred per cent.
Happy Holidays to all–