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The 4th of July - hamburgers

"don’t let anyone tell you what should and shouldn’t go on your burger!" Nagi - Recipe Tin Eats

Last night we were talking about how the media is currently flooded with items about Aboriginal Australia - the latest example being the AFR's luxury Life and Leisure magazine which was virtually all Aboriginal. I pointed out that it was just that media, well anyone who has to have some kind of display somewhere - in a newsletter, a shop window, a library, any public place really including the digital ones - just grabs on to what the current day, month, week, year is supposedly about and runs with it - like footy finals, spring racing carnival, Christmas, Easter ... So today I am jumping on to a different bandwagon to NAIDOC Week (which I should probably revisit) - Independence Day - well for the Americans anyway. The British don't have one of those and the Australian equivalent is somewhat in dispute. It's the 4th of July - soon to be followed I have to say with a different set of red, white and blue and nationalistic fervour - Bastille Day - the 14th of July. But that's for later. Will I notice I wonder? Food for thought though - I should pay more attention to these special days, weeks, months, years, decades, eras and ages.

And I thought - hamburgers. What could be more American than hamburgers - inspite of it's somewhat German name - in just about every way? Think McDonalds, fast food and ultimately experimentation and trendy foods. It's food as symbol. There is no better symbol of America in some ways. The only thing missing is religion and guns - although maybe I'll find them too along the way.

So where did it all begin? Well nobody really knows, but almost certainly in Germany and possibly Hamburg, although that is not necessarily the case. The Hamburg connection is more likely to have come from the fact that German immigrants travelled to America on the Hamburg America Line of ships.

Other connections are a German dish called a 'Rundstück warm' which as you can see is sort of similar. This dates back to 1869 but Hannah Glasse published a recipe in 1728 for Hamburgh sausage, which suggested to serve it 'roasted with toasted bread under it' according to Wikipedia and many others. I suspect this is a version of the Rundstück warm which was probably around before that 1869 date.

Anyway - it migrated to America where there are several origin stories, although most people seem to go with the real origin being the 1904 St. Louis World Fair.

"One problem is that there is little written history. Another issue is that the spread of the burger happened largely at the World's Fair, from tiny vendors that came and went in an instant. And it is entirely possible that more than one person came up with the idea at the same time in different parts of the country." ABC News

The St. Louis World Fair is also credited with having originated hot dogs, cotton candy (candy floss) the ice cream cone, peanut butter, Jell-O, Dr. Pepper and iced tea. But we are not talking about them here. Re the Hamburger one of those tiny vendors is claimed to be Uncle Fletcher Davis:

"Athens, Texas, has been boasting that the world’s first hamburgers were created in the late 1880’s at a small cafe on the Henderson County courthouse square run by a man known as Uncle Fletcher Davis. According to legend, Uncle Fletch took his sandwich to the 1904 World’s Fair, in St. Louis. There it was dubbed “hamburger,” a term apparently coined in derision by St. Louis citizens of Teutonic extraction who viewed as barbaric the culinary practice, native to Hamburg, Germany, of devouring large handfuls of ground beef, sometimes raw." Gary Cartwright - Texas Monthly

As to that raw thing there is another theory that has the hamburger as a descendant of Mongolian steak tartare - or a version thereof.

But really who knows. What we do know is that the evil genius of Ray Kroc founded McDonald's franchising and mass production. Fast Food really. So much so that you could almost say that those golden arches and the Big Mac are symbolic of all that American capitalism and industrialisation has given the world. After all you can find a McDonald's virtually anywhere in the world today and in spite of all the bad publicity they have received over the last decades, they are still there, still triumphing making millions, probably billions, and cleverly moving with the times.

The other thing that the hamburger symbolises - to me anyway - is the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. The hamburger chains - dominated by McDonald's and Burger King (Hungry Jack's) are cheap. Therefore the poor are a huge customer base. Theoretically, of course, why not - after all a good hamburger would provide all the main food groups. Even a McDonald's one will provide them, but they are boosted with all manner of bad things both within the burgers themselves and in the accompaniments - the fries, the coca cola, the sickly desserts. Not to mention all the other ethical and environmental dilemmas associated with them. One article that I read claimed that in America 13 billion hamburgers are consumed every year - that's 4 per month per person. A truly American food.

Poor is morphing into the current trend for using every last scrap of everything you eat. And who better to use as an example of this than Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with his Rice veggie burgers. I have to say, delicious though it looks, I don't think this is particularly healthy, because the filling is leftover rice made into a patty with leftover vegetables and lentils or beans. It would seem to me there is a bit too much carbohydrate in there. But it does demonstrate that you can make a hamburger with just about anything. And that hamburgers are for vegans too.

And what about the rich? Well at the other end of the spectrum you have gourmet burgers. For I should call them burgers rather than hamburgers. I think there are other distinctions, but one distinction is that hamburgers must be made with beef and burgers can be made with other things. Gourmet burgers are made with all manner of other things. This one is a prime example - a Beetroot, quinoa burger with avocado smash from Donna Hay. No meat involved at all. Indeed Donna Hay had 12 burger recipes and only about four of them were carnivorous. Every celebrity chef worth his salt has a recipe for a hamburger and there are boutique/gourmet hamburger cafés everywhere. There are at least two in downtown outer suburban Eltham for example. The celebrity chefs waffle on about technique and provenance - see Heston:

"Grinding cubes of sirloin steak, refrigerating and grinding again whilst trying to keep the grain of the individual strands running lengthwise in the same direction without getting tangled together."

But it doesn't look that amazing does it?

It's not just the trendy celebrities though. From the latest Coles Magazine comes

Chipotle pulled pork and slaw burgers - so typical of the current trend - particularly with the 'pulled' meat and the slaw. And this is in a supermarket magazine in a section called Slow Cookers on a Budget. The audience is ordinary Australia, including the very poor - the magazine is free after all. It looks pretty classy though doesn't it? Although it's not that simple - slow-cooked meat is involved. It's not a simple matter of making a mince beef patty on the barbie and putting it between two buns with some cheese and tomato - or whatever. It is rare that a supermarket magazine will not have a burger recipe in there somewhere.

And for the truly decadent there is this:

"The Golden Boy burger is presented on a platter of whiskey-infused smoke and loaded with premium ingredients including A5 Wagyu beef, king crab, beluga caviar, vintage Iberico Jamon, smoked duck egg mayo, white truffle, Kopi Luwak coffee BBQ sauce, pickled tiger tomato in Japanese matcha tea, and Dom Perignon infused gold-coated buns. “The ingredients complement each other very well and the flavors are intense. Even though this burger is extremely costly, you should still use your hands because that’s the only way to eat a burger. Since the bun is covered in gold leaf, your fingers will be golden by the time you finish." Robbert Jan de Veen - Restaurant owner

It's from a Dutch restaurant and will set you back €5,000 (approximately AU$7,645) - if you order in advance. Although in this case I will hasten to add that the proceeds were given to a local food bank. Which when I think about it is yet another symbol - a good one this time - of American philanthropy. Not that this was in America, although they have also done the same kind of thing from time to time. And if you really want to go symbolic how about this from Tom Roberts who described the hamburger as:

"the personification of “the Great Mother herself … the nipple of the Goddess, the bountiful belly-ball of Eve” Tom Roberts

But it is also perhaps the ultimate symbol of capitalism - not just because of McDonald's which has a relatively simple offering, but also because of all those variants:

"The burger menu is one of the most malign examples of capitalism's necessity to offer you the same product in a million and one, often inferior, variations." Tony Naylor

To me it is indeed a symbol of America, for on my long ago trip to America with my university friend Carole, we virtually existed on hamburgers. They were cheap and we reckoned they supplied us with the basic foods that we required. I swore I would never eat another hamburger ever again when I returned to England. But of course I did. They are fundamentally delicious after all.

And what is a true hamburger anyway?

"A great beef hamburger patty requires nothing more than beef." Nagi - Recipe Tin Eats

And the analysts seem to agree on this. It must be beef - fatty beef moreover to keep it juicy - and just salt and pepper. All those other things that you add are fundamentally up to you. That's what they say and Nagi of Recipe Tin Eats gives a pretty good rundown of the possibilities. She even refers to her original recipe whose beef patty included various other things. As do the ones that I make I must say. I tend to include a herb or two, some garlic and maybe some paprika as well. And chopped onion. Oh and egg to bind it all together. So I am not a purist. Nagi's two recipes are shown below - the original on the left and the current one on the right.

When it comes to things you add to your beef patty - well that seems to be up to you - although somebody suggested something sweet, something bland and something crunchy.

"that perfect combination of toppings, chosen in childhood and sacred ever after". Felicity Cloake

Which perhaps is why I always include some fried onions. For the first hamburgers that I ever ate were at the Wimpy bars and they only had fried onions in them. I remember being most disappointed with American hamburgers because the onions were raw.

I do like hamburgers and we have home-made ones every now and then, but I would never order one in a café. They are just too messy to eat. I always feel I need a bib, and a wad of napkins, as Tony Naylor suggests in his amusing article on How to Eat Burgers:

"The hamburger is a sandwich. A handheld snack. It is crucial, therefore, that it retains its structural integrity to the last mouthful. You can mince your beef in the same direction, create extravagant stacks, but if your burger is too thick to take a bite of, or its ingredients are prone to "slippage", it's not fit for purpose." Tony Naylor

July 4th - done. Although I didn't find any religion or guns. I wonder what special day July 5th is. I must look it up. I'm sure there is something.


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