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History of Food

History of the Hamburger

How to Make Burgers, The History of the Hamburger, Presidential Burgers, Popeye & the  Burger, Hundred Dollar Burgers and Burger Recipes

Nothing is as quintessentially American as the patty of ground meat that, when placed on a bun, is officially known as a hamburger. It is so beloved that we call any ground meat 'hamburger' and affectionately refer to  the patty as a burger.   The hamburger has evolved through time, reflecting tools and technology, inspiring creative cooks and scientific inventors.  Rooted deeply in the general conscious of America, we eat burgers more than any food other than pizza. Once a hamburger was merely a sandwich, but today we enjoy a classic hamburger or dress it up in fancy clothes.  We vary the meats used - we can make the classic beef burger, or use pork, veal, chicken, turkey, a combination of those meats, or go forward to discover the uses of venison and varieties of fish.  Or we can avoid all of them and create a veggie burger.  We have further opportunities for variety when we place the hamburger on any bread product, from a pita pocket to a classic hard roll or burger bun.  We can top burgers with a variety of toppings - cheeses, relishes, salsas, chutneys, sliced raw veggies, or smoky grilled vegetables.  The simple burger patty can also hold secrets inside and surprise with a crunchy vegetable or herbs or chiles.  Let the imagination go wild.

 How the Hamburger got its Name
 The name hamburger translates from the German as "of Hamburg"  in reference to a German citizen from Hamburg.  In Germany, however, various foods have been named by the city or area of their creation.  Frankfurt gave rise to the Frankfurter, Nurnberg gave rise to the type of bratwurst known as the Nurnberger.  And, for those who remember John F. Kennedy's famous speech in Germany in which he declared his sense of identity with the Berliners by orating, "Ich Bin ein Berliner," you may be startled to discover that not only was JFK avowing his allegiance to the divided city of Berlin, he was also declaring that he was a jelly donut.  In Germany, jelly donuts are called Berliners.  But was this the actual origin of the hamburger as we know it today?  Times have evolved and the hamburger has evolved with the times. History of the Hamburger- How the Burger Got its Groove As long as humans had a tool that would cut meat, from a sharp stone to a sharp knife, there has been minced meat.  Since logic tells us that putting entire slabs of meat into our mouths is not the easiest way to chew we suspect that minced meat was not discovered in any one area, but rose spontaneously around the globe.  The real burger of ground meat placed in a bun would wait for the invention of a grinding machine, and for the brilliant idea that bread dough would hold juices. Our beloved burger had its precursors, however.
 
burger au poivre with porteenie mushroom on sesame kaiser breadfrom Sam Sidawi's book my rustic sandwiches
 The development of the early hamburgers reputedly begins in Eastern Mongolia with the powerful Tatars.  In Western terminology, Tatar was corrupted to Tartar and eventually changed to Mongol to represent the inhabitants of the lands called Mongolia. Under the leadership of the great Chinggis Khan (yes, Genghis Khan to westerners) a great empire was formed.  The Tatars conquered the Tarim Basin and half of Turkestan by 1217 then followed with the conquest of West Turkestan, Afghanistan, and part of Persia (today's Iran) by 1221.  In 1221 Chinggis Khan himself invaded northern India while other troops moved into Russia.  By the time Khubilai became the great Khan, the capital of the empire was the city that would become Peking.  Not only was China part of this empire, so also was Manchuria, Korea and the major part of Tibet. Commerce flourished and what great commerce there could be under such a far-flung empire.  And what an amount of miles were covered on horseback, and it is here that we see the putative beginnings of the hamburger.  Supposedly, the Mongolian horsemen  put flat patties of lamb or mutton under their saddles as they rode.  The weight of a human and the bounce, bounce, bounce of  the saddle as the Golden Horde thundered across the steppes would act as a tenderizer - the precursor to not only the hamburger, but also the meat pounder. One report tells us that they brought this meat with them to Russia where it was given the name Steak Tartare.  This may be incorrect, however, as that inveterate traveler Marco Polo passed through the Yunnan province of China where he stated, "The poorer sort go to the shambles and take the raw liver as soon as it is drawn from the beasts; then they chop it up small, put it in garlic sauce and eat it there and then.  And they do likewise with every other kind of flesh.  The gentry also eat their meat raw."  Since Marco Polo called almost all Chinese Tartars, it may be that steak tartar emerged from the province of Yunnan. Whatever its certain origin, Steak Tartare traveled on to Germany.  Beginning in the fifteenth century, minced beef was a valued delicacy throughout Europe. Hashed beef was made into sausage in several different regions of Europe. Possibly it was brought by the Russians to the port of Hamburg which would, in time, become a major trading port of between Europe and the Arab world (the Bank of Hamburg was founded in 1609).  Supporting our guess that minced meat rose spontaneously among many peoples, the Arabs were already making kibbeh, a minced lamb dish that they shaped into a solid block of meat. This was definitely a close relative of the hamburger, though the Germans would not use lamb, but the more popular pork and beef. The great port of Hamburg was a debarking port for Germans heading to the new land.  It was this group who brought the Hamburg steak to New York.  This original was a piece of meat pounded with a mallet until tender (as opposed to being saddle-sore), not chopped or ground.  In 1802, the Oxford English Dictionary defined Hamburg steak as salt beef and it was made from inferior grades of meat.  It had little resemblance to the hamburger we know today. It was a hard slab of salted minced beef, often slightly smoked, mixed with onions and breadcrumbs. It was eaten both cooked and raw.  It was called  "Frikadelle," "Frikandelle" or "Bulette."

 The Hamburger Comes to the New World
 According to Theodora Fitzgibbon in her book The Food of the Western World - An Encyclopedia of food from North American and Europe, the hamburger was served to emigrants on shipboard in the 1850's.  This was not, however, a juicy piece of charcoal broiled beef, but salted, slightly smoked meat which would survive the time needed for a oceanic crossing in what was then considered a seaworthy vessel.  This meat was tough, as tough as the daring souls who crossed on what were often referred to as "death ships" because of the number of corpses that amassed below deck.  Presumably the unfortunates were separated from the salt beef.  A tough piece of meat, it was minced and frequently mixed with onion and breadcrumbs, not for seasoning, but to stretch the meat.  Arriving at the feet of Lady Liberty, those who survived would search for fresh meat. To attract German sailors and the few survivors who could afford to "eat out," eating stands along the New York city harbor offered "steak cooked in the Hamburg style."  Old cookbooks of the German immigrants to the US offer recipes, not for hamburger, but for minced meat pie.  Today we make this without meat, but, as the name indicates, this was a way of cooking minced beef.  The addition of fruits is characteristic of German cuisine and gradually meat was eliminated to give us the dessert that became a Christmas favorite.  In the late 19th century, as the Civil War raged and illness marked the camps, Dr. James Henry Salisbury created chopped beef patties to cure the soldiers suffering from an illness euphemistically called "camp diarrhea." The patties were made of meat from disease-free animal muscle fibers and were without fat, cartilage or connective tissues.  These dry cure-alls were then seasoned, and broiled. Dr. Salisbury advocated eating beef three times a day for a healthy constitution, an idea which partially remained in the American consciousness as beef was seen as the equivalence of health. The term "Salisbury steak" dates back in print to 1897.  It is part of the evolution of the hamburger, though we would never use our affectionate nickname of burger for this dish. The Hamburger Evolves - from Minced to Ground Meat Cutting with a knife, however sharp, was an expedient way to make meat palatable and tooth-worthy, but it was not until the meat grinder was invented that we could call hamburger ground meat.  The meat grinder was purportedly invented by Dr. Karl Drais (also the inventor of the velocopede - a pedal less bicycle)  in the 19th century. in Germany. In the U.S., inventions are  attributed to two people, the first, a certain E. Wade who received a patent on January 26, 1829.  This rudimentary grinder was actually a mechanical chopper, with moveable choppers that went up and down, up and down on a block that rotated as the choppers moved.  A good beginning, but in 1845, a  G. A. Coffman improved on this, receiving a patent of his own for an "Improvement in Machines for Cutting Sausage-Meat."  His discovery was to use a spiral feeder and rotate the knives rather than merely move them up and down. With this invention the hamburger was waiting in the wings, ready for its cue to go on.  It would need one element - a bun. l Contenders for the Honor of Inventing the Hamburger To be a true hamburger, we need to put that ground meat patty between the two slices of a bun.  There are several main contenders, all claiming the belt that declares them the burger champion, but if the hamburger was a spontaneous invention, there are many who may have cried, "I coulda been a contender."   Peruse the dates below for the invention, and look at the spatial distance between the various claimants.  Since the creation of the true burger occurred before the time of the automobile, distance and date may suggest that the idea of slapping the meat patty into a bun may have happened spontaneously.  Perhaps no single claimant can claim the prize, perhaps they must share it, however reluctantly.  The main claimants vying for the title are: "Hamburger Charlie" Nageen in 1885,Frank Menches at the Summit (N. Y.) County Fair of 1892, Fletcher Davis in Athens, Texas, sometime before 1904; Frank Menches at the Summit (N. Y.) County Fair of 1892 and Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch in New Haven in 1900.  Let's examine these contenders, each attempting to find their place in history - more than fifteen minutes of fame with so popular and successful a product. "Hamburger Charlie" Nagreen: Nagreen was selling a relative of the burger - the meatball when, in 1885, he went to the fair in Seymour Wisconsin.  His meatballs weren't selling, and he came up with the idea of flattening his meatballs and putting them between bread - a forerunner of all the Disneyland folks with their burgers.  Today Seymour, Wisconsin is home to an annual Burger Fest, held in August.  Of course there is a hamburger eating contest as well as what is billed as "the world's largest hamburger parade." Charles and Frank Menches: The descendents of the brothers Charles and Frank run a small chain in Ohio and are eager to tell the story of their ancestors invention, supposedly invented at the 1885 fair in Hamburg, New York. The story goes that the brothers were primarily sausage-sellers, but their sausages ran out due to high demand at the fair.  Not ready to lose customers, they fried up the beef, seasoned it with coffee, brown sugar, and some other secret ingredients, then made it into a sandwich. When asked what the sandwich was called, Frank looked at the banner for the Hamburg fair and said, 'This is the hamburger.' " Fletcher Davis aka “Old Dave.” Living in Athens, in Henderson County, Texas, "Old Dave" ran an Athens lunch counter next to the local drug store where, in the 1880's, he sold a regular burger patty that was housed, not just in slices of bread, but in bread that had just popped out of the oven.  According to legend, the townspeople of Athens raised money to send "Old Dave" to the World's Fair, held in St. Louis in 1904. Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch: In New Haven, Connecticut, Lassen ran a lunch joint called Louis' Lunch.  According to this account, in 1900 Lassen was responding to a highly stressed gentleman who was in a hurry and wanted food on the run.  He sandwiched a broiled beef patty between slices of bread.   Surely the hurrying gentleman was a visionary of our contemporary stressed-out mode of living, while Lassen was quick to understand that the bread would contain the beef without making a mess.  The Library of Congress supports this claim, though there may be unsung heroes elsewhere.  And, by the way, no ketchup is served on this burger. With due respects to all these people, we think that all deserve a crown for seizing an idea whose time had come.  All that remained was to bring this great food to the general public. Popular Culture and the Burger:  From Castles of White to Arches of Gold; Carhops, Drive-ins, & Cartoons The Burger Reaches Out to the Masses The first printed record of a restaurant hamburger was at Delmonico's in New York City.  They sold beefsteak for four cents, but a hamburger for ten cents.  Delmonico's did not influence other restaurants as the burger was to become a food for the masses, taken to heart as an icon of the popular culture of America.  It was probably the rise of the automobile culture that fed our national obsession with burgers.  The quickly made burger was an obvious choice for anyone on the road.  The automotive center including racing was in the Midwest. The Pig Stand in Dallas-Ft. Worth opened in 1921as did the stand that did more to popularize the hamburger than any other business of its day - the White Castle. Selling for a nickel per burger, the White Castle knew the value of its product and marketed them with the slogan ''Buy 'em by the Sack.'' Called ''the slider,'' the White Castle version of a hamburger  was not charcoal broiled over a hot grill, but was cooked on a hot griddle over a layer of onions. The steam from the onions cooked the hamburger, which kept the burgers moist. The first White Castle opened in 1921, but by 1930 there were more than 100 restaurants in the chain.  The burger had become big business and others were eager to conquer this new territory. The Wigwam drive-in restaurant (later the Teepee) opened in Indianapolis in 1932.  The 1930'salso saw the rise of 'Wimpy burgers.' Wimpy burgers were inspired by the Popeye cartoon character named Wimpy.  This character was Popeye's friend who is quoted as saying that he'd pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today. 'In England, Wimpie continues to be a synonym for hamburger. 1948 saw the first In-N-Out Burger a drive-in hamburger stand equipped with a two-way speaker.  Founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California, this early drive-in was not a drive-through, and cute young carhops served the food to drivers who didn't want to leave their cherished autos.   No doubt the appearance of nubile young bodies in coy costumes helped the burger's popularity. Drive-ins were extremely popular in Indianapolis during the 50's as was incessant cruising all night long. Also through the 1950's-1960's you could pull up to New Jersey diners or drive-ins,  and get a hamburger on a roll. If you wanted onions (grilled or raw), they were a special request. Condiments (mustard, ketchup, and sometimes mayo) were available on the table or at the counter. However, if you wanted it "dragged through the garden", where it was garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, and perhaps a couple slices of pickle, then you asked for a "California Hamburger." The hamburger was evolving further into the food of infinite variety that it has become today. James Beard, in 1941, had a recipe for this "exotic" California burger in his book Cook It Outdoors.  When Burger King's Whoppers appeared in the 1960's on Long Island, everyone said the Whopper was a "California-style" burger (all those vegetable toppings). It seemed very exotic at the time. Before that, just about the only burger toppings we knew of were ketchup, cheese, and pickles.  How did California, more specifically southern California, become so deeply associated with the hamburger?  Perhaps it was the 'Beach Party' movies with Frankie and Annette who were eating nothing but burgers, or pizza. Perhaps it was the car culture so dominant in California, perhaps it was American Graffiti which supposedly took place during the summer of 1962.  In 1981, Paul Wenner, owner of a vegetarian restaurant in Oregon, invented the Gardenburger, possibly the first veggie burger ever.  His creation soared in popularity and he closed the restaurant and went into the business of manufacturing Gardenburgers. And then came the Golden Arches and success that was not to be imagined by any of the early pioneers.  The hamburger became a world-wide phenomenon.  Burgers were everywhere, from Asia to Europe and back to their home in the U.S. Lest we forget - the Cheeseburger & More Contenders to Fame Dare we ignore the ever-popular cheeseburger?  It was the first invention that intimated that a hamburger might be open to variety and experimentation.  Again there is more than one person looking for glory. In 1924, one  Lionel Sternberger (no pun intended with that last name) supposedly put a slice of cheese on top of a burger served at the Rite Spot Restaurant in Pasadena, CA, and called it rather officially a 'cheese hamburger.' A decade later, in Louisville Kentucky, Margaret and Carl Kaelin tossed on cheese and upped the price of a burger to 15 cents and called it Kaelin's Cheeseburger. It would become a specialty of the house. But one year later, in 1935, Louis E. Ballast created a cheeseburger at his Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In in Denver, Colorado.  He attempted to trademark the name but was not able to do so.  It is interesting to note that this was a drive-in way back in 1935 when the car culture (so troublesome today with gas prices) had not fully gripped the States.  Ballast was a visionary, if not the original inventor of the cheeseburger. Presidential Burgers Though the land alone for Pres. Bush's Crawford ranch cost 1.3 million, Bush tends to conduct blue jeans and shirt-sleeve gatherings.  According to David Heymann, Bush was looking for relaxation for himself and guests and wanted a place for the casual.  His guests were to kick off their shoes and and eat "hamburgers and beans." Nixon served as a Cargo Officer in the South Pacific theater and put his shopkeeper's skills to work operating "Nick's Snack Shack," where military personnel could pick up hamburgers and fruit juice. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander and his superiors praised him as an excellent officer and leader. At the very least, he was an entrepreneur. President Clinton used to eat proper burgers until Hillary Rodham Clinton and some unfortunate health changed his diet.  When president, Ronald Reagan would head to Camp David for meetings, summits and important measures of state.  When asked what he wanted to eat, Reagan would abandon the formal and request would a burger. With Reagan, burgers also became a political statement.  When Reagan ran for his second term as governor Jerry Brown promoted an initiative limiting the amount of money lobbyists could give politicians.  Brown suggested $10 a month which he stated would be enough for two hamburgers and a Coke. When Brown later went to meet the newly elected Governor Reagan, Ronald (no relation to the Ronald of McDonald's fame) had a hamburger and a Coke ready for Brown. Lyndon Johnson often hosted barbecues at his LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas.  A staunch lover of his home state, Johnson often served hamburgers cut to the shape of Texas, admonishing his guests to"Eat the Panhandle first." In Palm Beach, Florida, once the playground of many denizens of the wealthy northeast,  a young John F. Kennedy sat at a local lunch counter where he ate hamburgers and drank coffee milkshakes.
 President Eisenhower, an avid golfer, liked to energize himself after a game with hamburgers minus the buns and with a thick slice of raw onion, washed down with a long glass of iced tea.

 Harry Truman suffered through meat shortages during WWII.  Shortages produced what were then called “hamburger riots”.  The hamburger had become the symbol of American eating.

 In 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt was president the socialist writer Upton Sinclair was a powerful figure, exposing the ills and wrongs within the U.S.  Troubled by what he saw in the meat-slaughtering, meat-packing industry, he wrote The Jungle, an expose of the ills that threatened the well-being and health of meat consumers.  After reading Sinclair's work, President Roosevelt ordered an investigation which confirmed the accuracy of Sinclair's reporting. No fool when it came to meat for the general public, Roosevelt called for legislation requiring mandatory federal inspection of all meat sold through interstate commerce, accurate labeling and dating of canned meat products, and a fee-based regulatory system that made meat packers pay the cost of cleaning up their own industry.

 Designer Burgers - The Hamburger Goes Gourmet
 Just as blue jeans rose from the ordinary to become a designer object, so also did the humble burger, and like designer jeans, the hamburger designed by a noteworthy chef rose in price, an exclusive prize for the wealthy.  This product must not be called a burger, but must retain the more formal name of hamburger. 

 It was the celebrated chef, Daniel Boulud who started burger snobbery with the introduction in 2001 of the DB Burger, a foie gras and short rib–stuffed hamburger which sold for $29.00 and rose to the glorious cost of $150.00. Supposedly Boulud was merely making a joke about hamburgers, but his creation became a signature dish.  Of course - who would not take to  a dressed-up burger?  Inspired by Boulud's success, the venerable Old Homestead, a long-reigning king of steak houses in New York City responded with a burger…oops, HAMBURGER…of their own.  This one cost $41.00 and was made with Kobe beef.   Not to be outdone, Boulud created his $50.00 DB Royale, complete with shaved Périgord truffles.

 Always thinking of the common man, today Boulud offers his signature burger without truffles for  a mere $32.00.

 The $175.00 burger was announced on May 20, 2008.  It is no surprise that this hamburger is sold in the financial district of New York City where traders may have days so explosively good that they feel they should celebrate with a burger made of Kobe beef, black truffles, seared foie gras, aged Gruyere cheese and wild mushrooms.  But what do you do for a hamburger bun?  No ordinary bun will suffice.   How about a brioche bun with flecks of gold leaf on it. The burger comes with golden truffle mayonnaise, Belgian-style fries and a mixed greens and tomato salad.   

 Yes, this is available and the restaurant selling said item claims that they sell 20 to 25 of these each month.  In their downstairs eatery they sell a four dollar burger.  Needless to say the four dollar burger outsells the gold-leaf hamburger.  We don't know if that's a reflection of the stock market's current problems, and we do feel pity for the pinched resources of the those working in the financial district. 

 As the grand finale to this most fascinating reflection of popular culture, we leave you with this question:

 WHERE WOULD KETCHUP BE WITHOUT THE BURGER?
 How to Make Great Burgers
 Though we resist fats, the flavor of meat is in the fat.  If you are using beef for your hamburgers, the sad reality is that the lower the fat content, the less flavor and the drier the burger will be.  Experts generally agree that ground chuck at about 24% fat will make the best burger.  Other meats can be much drier and you need to give them a boost with a little liquid to keep them moist.  We often turn to a small amount of wine, perhaps a flavorful broth or a little extra fat to keep our burgers succulent and moist.

 HANDLE AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.   This is the most serious burger caveat of all.  Never, never, never overwork the meat when shaping patties, when mixing ingredients.  The lighter the touch, the lighter the burger.  Resist the temptation to flatten a burger with a spatula while cooking.   You are squeezing out the juices and drying it out.   No dry hamburgers desired.  Juicy burgers are the goal, no matter what doneness you prefer. 

 Great burgers are created by piling innovative dressings and ingredients on top, or by stuffing something delicious as a surprise inside.  To make the best stuffed hamburgers make very thin patties, place stuffing on top of one patty, then cover with a second.  Seal the edges together and you have the perfect stuffed burger, one that won't expose ingredients to burning.

Grilling Hamburgers
Always get your grill hot and be sure to brush the grill's rack with oil so the patties don't stick.  Putting them on a hot rack and placing them directly over the flame will give them a nicely charred outside while keeping the inside moist.    If they are wet with marinade or have a high fat content, they may drip into the flames and be scorched rather than seared, so set that type of burger off to the side of the rack.

 Hamburger Nostalgia  - Memories of a Small America
 Hamburgers are more than movie memories.  In a smaller America, one that is rapidly vanishing, hamburgers meant something other than a preformed patty at McDonald's.  Here's Junior Trimmer's memory of what a burger meant and why he went on to play and experiment with the classic hamburger. 

 "Joe Bury's take on Hamburgers."
 When I was a kid, a man named Joe Bury bought an abandoned Gas Station up on the big highway, converted the repair bay area into a living space, and "office" area into a burger joint. The inverted "U"- shaped counter only had 16 stools, and the cooking area was right there along the back wall.

 The man never had any hired help; He was in there from 11:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. seven days a week. He offered just three things on his menu; His idea of a burger, deep-fried potato nuggets (something like Tater Tots), and cold sodas. The only toppers offered were grated parmesan cheese and hot pepper rings, and ketchup for the nuggets.  That tiny place was never without patrons.

 I ate about a thousand of those burgers before moving away.  As soon as I had my own kitchen and started serious cooking, I worked to duplicate the Joe Bury experience. The result is among those below.

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