Connolly’s Tom & Jerry Batter returns to Superior production in time for the holidaysThe batter recipe, which traditionally is mixed with a jigger of rum, a jigger of brandy and hot water, has been passed around a few industrial kitchens since the Connolly family sold it in 1986.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
It’s about this time of year when Mark Connolly gets a few messages from enthusiasts around the country looking for a product he hasn’t been associated with for years, but that still bears his family name: Connolly’s Tom & Jerry Batter.
Mark Connolly’s father, Jack, created the recipe in the back of his shop — Connolly’s Bakery, a mainstay on Belknap Street in Superior from the late 1940s until the mid-1980s.
“Last week I just got a Facebook message from someone in Tennessee,” said Connolly, father of 2012 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Jack Connolly. He also hears from batter fans in Las Vegas and, of course, in Duluth and Superior.
The batter recipe, which traditionally is mixed with a jigger of rum, a jigger of brandy and hot water, has been passed around a few industrial kitchens since the Connolly family sold it in 1986. The winter of 2011 was the first since 1949 without a fresh stock of Connolly’s in the refrigerator case at local liquor and grocery stores.
Now it’s back.
A trio of local families has joined forces to whip the ingredients into frothy peaks at a kitchen in the Superior Business Center. Steve Knauss, who owns Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, said he was approached by Upper Lakes Foods, the current holders of the recipe. The Cloquet-based company is in the distribution business and wanted someone to take on production of the batter. John Kurth and Nan and Michael Hillmeyer also signed on.
“It’s crazy good,” Knauss said.
The product is made in batches that include 30 pounds of sugar mix and three gallons of eggs, whipped in 60-quart batches. Between August and the end of the holiday season, they will have made 12,000 containers of the batter, which is then distributed to Super One and liquor stores.
As for comparisons to the original, it’s the same recipe that has been used all along. This crew isn’t in the product development business, Knauss said.
“Believe me,” he said, “we aren’t that creative. It’s an excellent product created by people who knew what they were doing. The wheel’s already been invented. Why redo it?”
As a kid, Mark Connolly put dollops into his hot chocolate. As a teenager, he made deliveries to local stores. And as an adult, just he and his father had the recipe committed to memory. Between November and New Year’s Eve, Connolly said the batter was in constant production at the back of the bakery and in a kitchen at the Superior IGA grocery store.
They were always aware of the competing brands.
“Every year there would be one or two new ones,” he said. “We’d buy the other brand and check it out. (Connolly’s) had such a cult following. It was so much better than anyone else’s. It had to do with the ingredients. They had tweaked it to do it right. What they had stumbled on was just a really good recipe.”
Despite his connection to the product, Connolly said he doesn’t make it at home. It’s a baking project, and it’s better in bulk, he said.
“The science doesn’t break down right,” he said. “I know what’s in it. I could take the ingredients and experiment with it and come up with something close.”
Jack Connolly sold the recipe to Paul Heytens, then-owner of The Shack in Superior. Upper Lakes Foods bought the recipe in the mid-1990s, and it was produced by their ice cream manufacturer in Alexandria, Minn. Eventually, production went to Cedar Crest Ice Cream, which is based in Cedarburg, Wis.
When Cedar Crest stopped making it after the 2010 season, they were without a producer.
“The Connolly’s Tom & Jerry Batter, from a Superior standpoint, is a well-known product,” said Susan Ryan, president of Upper Lakes Foods. “And the recipe is very good. People in this area really know it and like it, and Mr. Connolly, who started it, he really made a name for it in our communities.”
The new recipe-holders had to go through trial and error with early batches, and they checked in with Heytens for tips.
“We’ve gotten a lot faster toward the end,” Kurth said.
Nan Hillmeyer said you know the batch is done when it shines and looks ready to crest over the top of the 60-gallon mixer.
Connolly didn’t know the product was back. The batter reminds him of the years he spent working alongside his father and the busy holiday season for a small hometown bakery, he said.
“From a nostalgia standpoint, even though my family — other than the name — isn’t part of it, I’ve got a lot of good memories, for sure.”