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Hamburger, Hamburger, Hamburger... who Created the Hamburger?

Consuming ground meat started with the Egyptians, yet there is not much to reference so let's fast-forward to the Romans. Roman gourmet, Marcus Gavius Apicius documented work is in the 4th century cooking manuscript named after him. Apicius created a beef dish called isicia omentata, which is a baked patty consisting of ground beef mixed with pine kernels, black and green peppercorns, and white wine. Sounds delicous. Though Apicius clearly did not compile 4th century manuscript, the recipes are from his written records and oral accounts. You could say that Apicius was the original “foodie” as he had an extreme love of refined food.

By the 12th century, Mongolians consumed ground meat, mostly horse or camel. The “Emperor of all Emperors” Genghis Khan and his “Golden Horde” army would eat ground meat flattened into patties as they were out for battle in the present-day area of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The men would place the raw, ground meat under their saddles while they rode or battled. The motion of the horse and the rider tenderized the meat, making it perfect to eat, especially on the move. Genghis’ grandson, Khubilai Khan, also left his mark in culinary history. As the leader invaded what is now Moscow, the army continued with the diet that his grandfather ate. The Russians, who called these warriors Tartar’s, were now exposed to this meal, specifically the use of minced horsemeat. The Russians later adapted this cuisine, and called it Steak Tartar, refining it with chopped onions and raw eggs.

In the 1600’s, Russian ships brought Steak Tartar to the port of Hamburg in Germany. Venders added capers, onions and even caviar, and offered it as street fare. There was such a Russian presence in Hamburg, that the area received the nickname “the Russian Port”. Within a few centuries, thanks to the trade within the Hanseatic League, Germany became one of the largest commercial port locations in Europe. As such, they shared their food and culture with the international sailors who came to the port cities, including Hamburg. One of the dishes shared was the hamburg patty known as “Frikadelle”, which was a poor man’s dish. Low-grade beef, with spices, served cooked or raw, was a common meal among the lower class. The meal was later adapted for sea travel for the sailors and the large swells of people immigrating. The meat was heavily salted, minced, and sometimes soaked in breadcrumbs and chopped onion. From this point, the "hamburg patty" was making its way around the world. In the 1758 English cookbook (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy) by Hannah Glasse, she refers to the meal as Hamburgh Sausage. Glasse recommends serving the meal with toasted bread. Soon after, “Hamburg Steak” made it to New York City. Food venders in New York City used the term “Hamburg style steak” as a way to draw in German sailors and Jewish Immigrants.

By 1844, Mrs. D.A. Lincoln (otherwise known as Mary Bailey), wrote the original Boston Cooking School Cook Book. Ms. Lincoln was a pioneer in her own right, as she was one of the first to address the scientific and nutritional basis of food preparation. Not to mention she is from my “neck of the woods”. Moving on. Her recipe for Hamburgh Steak (and broiled meat cakes, which was similar), referred to mincing the meat finely, season with salt and pepper and perhaps include a little chopped onion or onion juice. Pounding the meat to tenderize, then pressing it into a flat cake, broil in a hot pan and serve with butter.

The modern day hamburger started in 1885, by a 15 year old boy named Charlie Nagreen of Seymour, Wisconsin, as a stroke of genius. Charlie went to the Outagamie Country Fair was his ox-drawn carriage to sell meatballs. The boy was not selling as many meatballs as he had hoped, realizing that the meal was tough to eat by the roaming consumers. Charlie came up with a brilliant idea, he flattened each meatball and placed them between two pieces of bread and called it the hamburger. From that day forward, Charlie became known as “Hamburger Charlie”, and went to every fair thereafter until his death in 1951 to sell his signature hamburger and to entertain the crowds with his guitar. “Hamburger Charlie” ditched the ox-drawn carriage, constructed a large tent, and sold as many as 150 pounds of hamburger a day. In 2007, Wisconsin state legislature declared Seymour, Wisconsin, as the home of the hamburger.

Like every other food origin, there is a debate to who started the hamburger and to make it interesting, the competing story starts the same year as “Hamburger Charlie”. Brothers Frank and Charles Menches from Akron, Ohio, while a part of a 100-man traveling concession circuit at events in the Midwest, claimed they also created the hamburger. The story here is that the brothers had a stop at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York. The men who were originally selling hot sausage patty sandwiches when they ran out of pork. The local butcher did not have any pork so he gave them beef instead. The brothers mixed the ground beef, with some brown sugar, coffee, and other spices and served it as a sandwich between two pieces of bread. They called this sandwich the “hamburger” after Hamburg, New York where the fair was being held. The success of their new recipe lead to the Menches Brothers Restaurant in Akron, Ohio, which is still serving hamburgers to this day. In Frank’s 1951 obituary in The Los Angeles Times referred to him as the "inventor" of the hamburger.

There are dozens of stories like the two above, all laying claim to the “original hamburger”. It is not until the famous 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri did the hamburger really experience widespread attention. As foodies, we wish we could go back in time for one day to go to this Worlds Fair. Not only did the hamburger become a sensation here, but this is the event of many food “firsts”; ice cream cone, cotton candy, hot dog, iced tea to mention a few. During the fair, a reporter from the New York Tribune wrote about the new sandwich he had tried called the hamburger. Most believe that the reporter visted the unoffical vender Texan Fletch Davis, known as “old Dave” and his wife, who were peddling his hamburger recipe. Old Dave is not on the official list of venders for the fair, but his family has pictures of him at his stand. The story in the New York Tribune told the story of this sandwich, it was now a national sensation because of “Old Dave”.

A version of the hamburger that was gaining popularities was the Salisbury steak, created by Dr. James Salisbury round 1897. The Salisbury was a hamburger patty served with a generous helping of brown, tangy gravy. During World War II, American’s stopped calling ground beef patties Hamburgers, as it was a reference to Germany. It was common place to now refer to all beef patties as Salisbury Steaks, even though they did not have the brown gravy on top. That did not last long, but long enough to get past the war.

The popularity of the hamburger had quite the ripple effect. By the end of the 19th century, the consumption of beef cattle in the US was at an all time high. As with anything, popularity and production can bring on corruption. The corruption lead to poor food quality and hygiene concerns in the meat industry. In 1906, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Upton Sinclair, published a book titled “The Jungle” which focused on the meat industry, specifically labor, processing, and sanitary conditions. Sinclair’s book was such a success that the Food and Drug Administration created the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Meat Inspection Act to address the issues that were present in the meat industry.

Another ripple effect, but in a good way, was the popularity of the hamburgers “supporting cast”. The supporting cast include ketchup, cola, French fries, and sides like mustard. Diners, burger shops, small restaurants and venders felt the need to sell the burgers with an accouterment. Ketchup started with Pittsburgh entrepreneur and chef, Henry John Heinz, who commercial produced his recipe in 1869 from his fathers basement. Originally sold under the name Anchor Pickle and Vinegar Works with his partner, Noble. The first business was not a success, so Heinz started a new business with his cousin Frederick in 1888 under the name F&J Heinz. We know that business was a success. Worldwide, ketchup is now the most served pairing with hamburgers. Coca Cola, started in 1885 by Georgia grocer John Pemberton, who named his drink French Cola Wine. Coca Cola had already started to emerge as a national favorite, but the pairing with the hamburger sent the popularity into orbit. lastly, hot, salty french fries become a popular side to hamburgers in the 1940s. The concept of French fries was also not new, that started as early as the 1600’s in Belgium, but they were perfect especially with the ketchup.

All these sides received quite the boost in popularity because of a small, simple restaurant in Monrovia, California. In 1937, Patrick McDonald and his two sons started a small restaurant near an airport on the famed Route 66. The location and menu was a success, leading to an second restaurant in San Bernardino, California. At the time of the second restaurant, 80% of McDonald’s sales was coming from hamburgers. Though the restaurant tried different variations of their menu, including hot dogs and barbecue, they soon realized their star was the hamburger. The hamburger was easy and inexpensive to make, and the customers came in droves to devour them. By 1953, The McDonald’s family noticed a trend in competing fast food restaurants. Fast food restaurants like White Castle, Burger King, Wimpy’s and Bob’s Big Boy were creating franchises around the country. In 1955, McDonald's hired Ray Kroc of Des Plaines, Illinois to lead the franchise ventures. By the 1960's, Under Kroc's leadership, McDonald’s was well on the way to become an international success. Today, informal eating out account for around 1 trillion a year globally, fast food making up 75% of that spending. Consumers spend about 11% of that at McDonalds. We came across a staggering stastic in our research, McDonald's sells 75 hamburgers every second. Think about how food production it takes to make that much meat, bread, and the sides.

The most expensive individual hamburger, according to Guinness Book of World Records, comes from Las Vegas. At Hubert Keller’s Fleur, inside Mandalay Bay Casino, you can cash in all your winning for a $5,000 FleurBurger. The burger is full of incredibly decadent ingredients like Kobe beef, foie gras, and truffles. It also comes with a rare bottle of Petrus wine and Ichendorf Brunello glasses that you can take with you.

Starting with the Khan’s, and continuing with folks like Nagreen, hamburgers have always been a food for those on the move. Cooked right, and consumed in moderate quantities, hamburgers are a classic comfort food worldwide.By 2003, the annual consumption of hamburgers reaches 50 billion in the US, that equals three hamburgers a week per person.

As we move into the summer months, aroma's of backyard barbeques will fill the air. Hamburgers, along with other delicious foods will be happily consumed under the warm sun. I can't wait! Enjoy.

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