Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Coming to America

So, I’ve been sitting here thinking about the origins of our humble hot dog. Maybe it’s because I’m on day 26 of this government edict for forced solitude, but to me it seems important to see what I can find.
Knott's Berry Farm in SoCal takes the hot dog to it's "berry best." Hot Dog with Boysenberry jam and Boysenberry bread bun. 

There are many stories about the beginnings of the American version of the frankfurter, most of which seem to be a bit farfetched.

The precursor to the invention of the hot dog is the simple sausage link. When it came into being is anyone’s guess, but let’s just say it was a very long time ago.

None other than Homer writes about cooking sausage in the ancient classic “The Odyssey.” In the story he writes about the first documented wiener roast.

“As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted. . .”

Close your eyes and you can almost hear the sizzle as the drippings off the roasting meat hit the red-hot coals of the fire.

Attracted by the amazing smells, the Romans picked up on the practice of roasting processed meats in a casing over an open fire, most likely because it was, in fact, delicious.

As the Romans conquered most of the known world, they introduced the civilized world to the concept of the sausage, (of course there is nothing to say other cultures in other parts of the world didn’t independently develop a similar method of curing and cooking meats).

The sausage finally achieved greatness when the meat forming process was turned over to the same people who gave us Octoberfest, the Germans. Great beer, warm, salty pretzels, and nice hot bratwurst.

But how did we get from the bratwurst to the “American” hot dog?

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council:

“Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, is traditionally credited with originating the frankfurter. However, this claim is disputed by those who assert that the popular sausage - known as a "dachshund" or "little-dog" sausage - was created in the late 1600's by Johann Georghehner, a butcher, living in Coburg, Germany. According to this report, Georghehner later traveled to Frankfurt to promote his new product.”

Finally, the humble hot dog landed on the freedom loving shores of America. Brought over by German immigrants, the hot dog found a home among the working-class citizens of New York. Easy to eat with one hand, cheep and tasty, it made the perfect street food.

I finish this blog entry with a German saying: “Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an ending, but the sausage has two).

Which apparently was made into a song in 1987, go figure.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Hot Dogs, Baseball and Me

I’m not sure when I had my first hot dog. I’m sure I was pretty young, most likely at some family gathering, fresh off a smoky charcoal grill.

However, the first memory I have of hot dogs are deeply connected to another truly American icon.

I remember going to my first big-league baseball game with my Cub Scout troop. I will never forget walking into the outfield bleacher section at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The noise, the crowds and especially the smells.

Dodgers Spring Training Vero Beach Fla, 2008

The scent of buttery popcorn goodness, the sweet sugar perfume of cotton candy mixed with the savory, smokey bouquet of perfectly grilled Dodger Dogs almost overloaded the senses of my pre-teen self.

I do remember a little about the game. My favorite Dodger, Steve “Mr. Clean” Garvey was only in his 2nd year with the big club. I remember the promotional give away was three 8x10 “signed” photos of Dodger players (and the adult that bitched that Don Drysdale didn’t even play anymore so the pics were junk).

But mostly I remember eating my way into a near food coma. We had sodas, peanuts, popcorn, candy and most importantly Dodger Dogs for dinner.

Like any typical kid, I had mine with some tomato ketchup and a bit of sweet pickle relish. It was a 9-year-olds culinary heaven. To me, that dog lived up to legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully’s promise of the Farmer John’s sausage being “Eastern most in quality, Western most in Flavor.”

The view from the good seats, Dodger Stadium Club, May 2003

But the hot dog universe didn’t begin with a “Big Bang” in the confines of Chavez Ravine.

It didn’t start on the Boardwalks of Coney Island. In fact, no one really knows the factual origins of our favorite frank, but one thing that is certain, the modern dog can trace its pedigree back to ancient times.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Humble Hot Dog

It’s day 18 of the Stay-at-Home order.

Oddly, I don’t find that I’m missing driving the 150 miles a day to and from my “normal” job. And I don’t think I’ve spent this much time with my wife since we were both in the US Army and worked in the same unit. That would be about 35 years ago.

This week has been a little rough, it’s been raining for the last five days. Now if you live in Seattle, WA. that would be a normal week, however if you reside in the middle of the mighty Mojave Desert, it’s a bit unusual. To put it simply, it sucks.

I’ve binge watched some TV, got to re-watch the movie “Yesterday” (I saw it on the plane to the UK, loved it, I highly recommend it).

After improving my tan using exposure to the electric glow of computer/video screens, I even picked up an actual book. You know, those old-fashioned things with pages that you physically turn to continue reading. And to boot, they’re radiation free.

For some reason (maybe hunger caused by the unprecedented and unnecessary depletion of foodstuffs from the local store), I picked up my copy of “The Hamburger” by Josh Ozersky, my favorite food writer.

In his definitive tome of the history of the simple meat sandwich, he disperses with popular myths, delves deep into history and gives us a thorough understanding of how ground beef on a bun became the defining cuisine of America.

Ozersky briefly mentions the other contender for the fast food heart of America, the humble hot dog.

Josh dismisses the hot dog, as well as the Philly Cheese steak, the Dagwood and the Ruben as mere afterthoughts in the march of American fast food hierarchy.

Walt Disney World has a pretty acceptable burger when we visited in 2015 

I would never think to disagree with the ultimate meat oracle, but  I have my own thoughts about the “All American” hot dog, which I’ll share in the next couple of posts (hint one – it’s not American).