Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 22, 2004


Page 14



Hamburgers of Early 1900s Were Different From Today’s




The history of hamburger in the United States is reflected by recipes for it in cookbooks. Given that my wife, Jo-Ann, has cookbooks occupying several shelves in our library, I’m at no loss for resources on this topic.

Cookbooks in the early 20th Century generally referred to “Hamburg steak,” rather than hamburger. Beef that was chopped or scraped, rather than ground, was used.

Delving into Jo-Ann’s cookbook collection, I came across Wallace, “The Rumford Complete Cookbook,” published in 1908, and priced at one dollar. It has two recipes, each of which starts with a quarter pound of “very lean round steak” and salt and pepper. The recipes call for cutting the meat into strips, removing all fat, scraping the “pulp from the fibre” of the meat, and applying light seasoning.

The directions for making hamburgers—which the book labels “Beef Cakes”—are that the meat scrapings be formed into “very small balls or cakes,” broiled for about two minutes, and served on “rounds of buttered or dry toast.”

Or, the meat can be spread, raw, on buttered or plain bread or toast, for a simple version of steak tartare, there denominated “Scraped Beef Sandwiches.”

I find it interesting that these dishes are included in a chapter labeled “Recipes for the Sick.”

I found a recipe for “Hamburg Steak” in Hill, “Practical Cooking and Serving,” published in 1912. The ingredients are one pound of round steak, a tablespoon of onion juice or grated onion, a teaspoon of salt, an egg, and a “dash of pepper, if desired.”

Here’s the recipe:

“Chop the steak very fine and mix thoroughly with the other ingredients; the egg may be used, or not, it helps hold the meat together during cooking. With hands, or knife and spoon, wet in cold water, shape the mixture into a steak, or small flat cakes. Have the edges of the meat of the same thickness as the centre. Broil in a deep double-broiler with wires running at right angles, or sauté first one side and then the other in hot drippings or fat from salt pork. Serve with brown or tomato sauce.”

“The Epicurean,” a 1,183-page book on “culinary art,” was published in 1920. Its author, Charles Ranhofer, was a former chef at Delmonico’s in New York, which boasts being the first restaurant in the nation to serve Hamburg steak, in 1834. The book contains the following recipe for “Beef Steak, Hamburg Style (Bifteck à la Hambourgeoise)”:

“One pound of tenderloin of beef free of sinews and fat; chop it up on a chopping block with four ounces of beef kidney suet, free of nerves and skin or else the same quantity of marrow; add one ounce of chopped onions fried in butter without attaining color; season all with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and divide the preparation into balls, each one weighing four ounces; flatten them down, roll them in bread-crumbs and fry them in a sauté pan in butter. When of a fine color on both sides, dish them up pouring a good thickened gravy…over.”

Nowadays, steak tartare is quite distinct from raw hamburger. The latter is usually fatty (though leaner than it used to be), not necessarily freshly ground, almost invariably brown inside, and unfit to be eaten raw. Steak tartare, by contrast, is beef shorn of fat, double-ground a short time before being consumed, and red throughout, to which is added not only egg yolk and onions, which might be included in hamburgers, but anchovies, capers, horseradish, and various condiments.

The differentiation between raw hamburger and steak tartare was not so distinct, however, in 1920. “The Epicurean” offered a recipe for “Hamburg Steak à la Tartare” with ingredients that were the same as Hamburg steak except that the onion was raw and chopped green pepper was added. The description noted: “These steaks are generally eaten raw.”

Today, a salisbury steak is, by definition, a cooked ground beef patty with minced onions, covered with gravy. By contrast, “The Epicurean” says of salisbury steak: “These raw steaks are frequently served without any seasoning or else seasoned and broiled very rare.”

Missing from these recipes is any mention of hamburger buns or a layer of cheese. Or catsup.

A person consuming a hamburger steak back then would not have to query: “Where’s the beef?” Whether served at home or in a restaurant, there was no hiding of a paltry patty among thick layers of tomato and lettuce.

Next week, I’ll offer more of the early recipes for hamburger.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company


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