Christmas is Monday and that means it’s time for family, feasts and plenty of fun. Those feasts are usually made up of turkeys, roasts, plenty of cranberry sauce, a vegetable and at least a pie or two. But if you look at my list there’s something missing: drinks! Sure, you could serve wine, but we’re in the middle of the holiday season and the holidays mean rich, sweet, indulgences. Don’t get me wrong, wine and champagne are great, but cocktails… cocktails always make a party special; which is why champagne punches, mulled wines and spiced ciders adorn tables. But my favorite cocktail during the holidays is the classic eggnog.
I know, I know… when you hear eggnog you probably shudder as you think of that overly sweet dairy drink sold by the boatload in supermarkets across America. I get it. I used to think that, too. See, when I was little my mom used to buy that white carton of eggnog with the holly on the side. There was just one problem: it was way too sweet. I’d usually have to cut it with plain low-fat milk just to make it drinkable. But as I got older, my mother started having holiday parties and she realized she couldn’t serve that sicky sweet concoction. She realized she had to make her own. The eggnog our grandparents used to drink. The kind you find in that classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking. The kind with alcohol. It was so much better than the store bought stuff and not just because it was alcoholic. My mother didn’t use nearly as much sugar as you find in the store bought version and the beaten egg whites gave it a frothiness that felt like winter in the mountains.
The secret to really good homemade eggnog (as with really good homemade anything) are the ingredients. First off, you need eggs, and I mean a lot of eggs. The classic eggnog uses at least a dozen. That’s right, a dozen. Raw. Eggs. Now, if you’re getting all wiggy by the idea of ingesting raw eggs, take a deep breath and lean in because I’m about to tell you why a raw egg in a cocktail will not hurt you. First, it’s all about the egg. You want to use the freshest eggs possible. Then you want to make sure those fresh eggs are kept cold. Why? If the temperature around the egg fluctuates they’ll go bad faster and you definitely don’t want to use bad eggs. Bad eggs equal horrible sickness. But if the eggs are cold and fresh, there’s only a 1% chance of getting salmonella from them. A one percent chance! But that’s not the only reason you probably won’t get sick. There’s also the alcohol. A punchbowl of eggnog has four cups of liquor in it. 4 cups! So even if there is an evil little bacterium in one or two of the eggs, odds are all that alcohol will kill it in a matter of minutes. It’s even written in the directions: after you beat the eggs and sugar, you add one cup of liquor and “let it sit for at least an hour to dispel the eggy taste”.
But if you’re still uncomfortable imbibing the cold eggnog for fear of getting sick, there is a hot version that will obliterate any and all chances of salmonella poisoning because you’re literally cooking (and therefore killing) the bacteria. That version is called a Tom & Jerry and it really is just an eggnog that someone from the 1800’s decided to cook on the stove.
That someone was sports writer, Pierce Egan who supposedly named the drink after his book, Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. As with a lot of vintage cocktails there’s another theory on how the drink got its name: as a tribute to Professor Jerry Thomas, a celebrated bartender at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel in the 1860’s. This is the version I believe, after all it’s a cocktail and cocktails come from bartenders so… No matter which story is true though, one thing’s for sure, the drink was definitely not named after that famous cat & mouse cartoon of the 40’s and 50’s.
So, if Egan was the first person to create the Tom & Jerry, who came up with the original idea to combine milk and eggs with liquor in the first place? Well, most culinary historians agree that eggnog originated around the 13th century from the Britain “posset,” a hot, milky, ale-like drink. (Tom & Jerry, anyone?) By the 17th century, the drink had gone from ale drink to a classier sherry cocktail primarily consumed by the well-to-do of society because milk, eggs, and sherry were scarce commodities in Europe at the time. Since it was such a common drink among the rich, the beverage became a popular choice for toasting one’s health and prosperity.
The cocktail eventually made its way to America in the 1700’s, and upon landing on the New England shore, the colonists immediately made it their own. They replaced the sherry with rum because the rum they got from the Caribbean was much cheaper than the other liquors being shipped in from England. And so, the readily available supply of milk and eggs (thank you farmers) made the rum version the popular choice, especially around the holidays.
Seeing as how both drinks have such a colorful history, it only makes sense that the tradition lives on today and we continue to imbibe this wonderful elixir. But while one elixir is good, two is better. I mean, who doesn’t love sipping on a hot drink when it’s cold outside. I know I do, and the fact that the Tom & Jerry is made with the same ingredients as the Eggnog means less work for you. Simply split the drink in two, serve and be merry.
(serves about 30)
- 12 large egg yolks
- 1 lb powdered sugar (1 box)
- 4 cups dark rum, brandy, bourbon, or whiskey or a combination
- 8 cups heavy cream
- 8-12 egg whites
- 2-3 tsp ground nutmeg
- In a large bowl beat together the egg yolks until they’re light in color – about 3 minutes.
- Gradually beat in the powdered sugar.
- Gradually add 2 cups of alcohol, beating constantly.
- Let stand for at least an hour to dispel the eggy taste.
- After an hour beat in the last two cups of alcohol and 8 cups of heavy whipping cream.
- Refrigerate covered for at least 3 hours. (This part can be made a day ahead. Then beat and add the egg whites right before the guests show up.)
- In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until the peaks are stiff. Fold the egg whites gently into the egg yolk mixture.
- Pour the nog into a large punch bowl, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.
Tom & Jerry Cocktail
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp. powdered sugar
- 1 oz dark rum
- 1 oz brandy
- 3/4 cup hot milk
- grated nutmeg for garnish
- Separate the egg white from the egg yolk and beat them separately. Fold them together and pour into mug.
- Stir in the powdered sugar, rum and brandy.
- Pour in the milk, sprinkle the nutmeg on top and drink to your heart’s content.