Today, January 5th …
The OED says that the word “hamburger” first appeared in print on this day in 1889 in the Walla Walla Union, a Washington newspaper. The quotation given is: ‘You are asked if you will have “porkchopbeefsteakhamandegghamburgersteakorliverandbacon”’. Careful reading shows that this is misleading, as it refers to hamburger steak, not hamburger(s). Anyway, this little researcher has found (purely by chance) a 1873 reference to “hamburger steak” in the New York Times of 1873, so the OED is WRONG!
The issue of the first written reference aside, the reality is that minced meat patties have been around for as long as there have been kitchen slaves to finely chop the less appetising cuts of meat. When and how did a lump of fried or grilled chopped up meat become a burger?
The first question is: Why Hamburger and not Berlinburger, or Parisburger for that matter? It seems that the idea of minced meat masquerading as steak came from Germany, presumably Hamburg, to the USA in the first half of the nineteenth century with the wave of migrants from that country. Leaving aside the recipes for “Hamburg beef” that are instructions for salted meat, most recipes of the time are for minced meat patties, called “hamburg steak” and often “shaped as sirloin”.
The real question is, who first got the idea to put the meat in a bun, thus creating a burger as we know it? There are many contenders for the original idea, and they will no doubt be scrapping over the honour for centuries yet, but burgers in buns were certainly being sold at the St Louis Fair of 1904.
Here are a couple of recipes from Fannie Farmer’s “Boston Cooking School Cookbook” of 1896. She doesn’t mention bread, but it is obviously the onion that makes the burger difference.
Broiled Meat Cakes
Chop finely lean raw beef, season with salt and pepper, shape in small flat cakes, and broil in a greased broiler or frying-pan. Spread with butter, or serve with Maitre d’hotel Butter. In forming the cakes, handle as little as possible; for if pressed too compactly, cakes will be found solid.
Chop finely one pound lean raw beef; season highly with salt, pepper, and a few drops onion juice or one half shallot, finely chopped. Shape, cook, and serve as Meat Cakes. A few gratings of nutmeg and one egg slightly beaten may be added.
Tomorrow: The art of tarts.