Some unique statewide traditions come and go, while some places become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: Tom And Jerry!
It’s the middle of December in Wisconsin. It’s cold outside and we’re in the thick of the holiday season. As such, the idea of reaching for your usual frosty beer, chilled wine, or ice cold cocktail right now might not seem quite as appealing as it usually does. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of hot boozy beverages available around these parts between Thanksgiving and, well, whenever the weather gets better in late March or April.
Of course there are seasonal sippers like the Hot Toddy, as well as mainstays like mulled wine, spiked hot chocolate, and (no judgement here!) coffee with Baileys or RumChata added. However, there’s another hot wintertime cocktail that’s bigger in Wisconsin than it is anywhere else on earth. Yep! We’re talking about the Tom And Jerry.
Much like our state’s unmatched affinity for brandy, old fashioneds (sometimes including brandy), fish fry, and kringle, the Tom And Jerry didn’t originate in Wisconsin. It allegedly was invented in the mid-1800s in Europe, with varying accounts as to who actually developed the drink. Regardless, for reasons we can’t explain, this hot and creamy cocktail has remained a popular part of the state’s holiday tradition long after it’s fallen out of fashion pretty much everywhere else on the planet.
Every autumn, bakeries, bars, and retailers statewide start making and selling Tom And Jerry “batter”—a rich, sticky, and impossibly sweet amalgam of powdered sugar, whipped egg, and spices—that’s sold at a variety of Wisconsin grocers and liquor stores. The final product is an endearingly dated-looking plastic tub filled with a frothy material that lands somewhere between custard and marshmallow creme in consistency, which is to be stored in the freezer…even though we’ve come to realize it cannot actually freeze.
When the mood strikes (usually after dinner on a cold night or in the morning while opening gifts during holiday gatherings), just put some brandy and/or rum into a mug, pour some heated water on top of the liquor, then take the batter out of the ice box and plop a dollop of it on top of the liquids. Top with a little nutmeg, stir until the batter spreads even;y throughout the drink, and enjoy. Kids and non-drinkers can also enjoy an N/A Tom And Jerry by simply foregoing the liquor in the recipe.
Seasonal availability aside, a Tom And Jerry is something you can—or at least should, for the sake of your heart health—only have a few times each year. The cocktail is deceivingly boozy, extremely creamy, and oh-so-sweet. It’s low-key a cup of frosting that gets you buzzed, so it’d honestly be pretty heroic to tie one on exclusively while imbibing T&J’s. Instead, this rich and decadent drink is rightfully relegated to “seasonal favorite” or “holiday standard” distinction. It’s a one-and-done delight to be shared with loved ones during special occasions during cold weather months.
Around when the temperatures rise, the snow clears, and the holidays become a distant memory is usually about the same time that trusty, never-redesigned tub of cream and calories in your freezer nears emptiness. But worry not, Wisconsinites, Tom And Jerry will be back again the next time the holidays come around. Cheers to that.