Thursday, December 16, 2004
Owners of French’s Mustard Perpetrate Hoax
By ROGER M. GRACE
H.L. Mencken, in “Happy Days” (1940), first volume in his three-part autobiography, reflected:
“I devoured hot-dogs in Baltimore ’way back in 1886, and they were then very far from newfangled....They contained precisely the same rubber, indigestible pseudo-sausages that millions of Americans now eat, and they leaked the same flabby, puerile mustard.”
Just why he “devoured” something he found so repulsive is not explained. Anyway, what matters here is that Mencken’s recitation further debunks the myth promulgated by the current owners of French’s mustard, a British conglomerate, that the hot dog debuted at the 1904 world’s fair in St. Louis with French’s Cream Salad Mustard adorning it.
The hot dog did not make its debut there. As I pointed out last week, hot dogs—or “frankfurters” or “wieners” (or variations on those monikers)—predated that fair by decades.
French’s yellow prepared mustard might was introduced at the 1904 exposition but, as the quote from Mencken indicates, as of 1904, franks and mustard were no strangers.
In that same year of 1886 when Mencken was routinely devouring franks, a news item appeared in the Dec. 2 edition of the Decatur (Ill.) Daily Republican reporting that two days earlier, a train had traveled 35 miles in Missouri, from Stanton to St. Louis, in 32 minutes, “a remarkably fast time.”
Forty one businessmen were aboard, the article said.
The conductor “feasted the St. Louis nabobs with a royal lunch from his red-hot can of wienerwurst, mustard, and horse-radish,” the newspaper chronicled.
The availability of hot dogs and mustard is reflected by an article appearing on Jan. 18, 1890 in the Salem (Ohio) Daily News entitled “Chicago’s Night Cooks.” The writer had toured the Windy City on foot with a police detective, beginning at 11 p.m.
According to the account, the detective pointed to one curbside vendor, noting that he sells “Frankfort sausage, red hot.” The reporter sampled the wurst, served on bread, and recounted that it was “good.”
He noted that the “red-hots” were “generally cut in two longitudinally” and “smothered in mustard.”
The vendor pointed out where he keeps his various supplies, noting: “In dis box I carries the ground mustard.”
Mustard was prepared by adding vinegar to the mustard flour, as well as spices, and stirring.
A column in the Aug. 10, 1898 edition of the Middletown (New York) Daily Argus also reflected the common usage of mustard on hot dogs before French’s came on the scene. One month earlier, Midway Park, accessible by steamboat and trolley, had opened in Maple Springs, New York. An unnamed commentator remarked that it was “surprising what a fondness” a “high liver” develops “for hot frankfurters” served there.
The writer noted:
“The crowd of men at the fair grounds, Tuesday, kept two men busily engaged crisping the ‘dogs’ and smearing them with mustard in a small roll, cut lengthwise.”
The columnist continued:
“Lawyers, politicians and business men, who couldn’t be hired to buy one in town, juggle them at the fair as expertly as the ‘tout’ who follows the races and does not eat anything else.”
Reports of proceedings of the local Police Court appearing in the April 4, 1902, edition of the Atlanta (Georgia) Constitution included the Case of the Defaulting Wurst-Gobbler. The judicial officer, or “recorder,” asked what the defendant had done, the article said, continuing:
“‘He bought a weenie-wurst, your honor,’ replied the officer, ‘and after he had ate it up refused to pay for it because it did not have enough mustard on it to suit his taste.”
The jurist imposed a fine “for the weenie swindle,” rejecting the defendant’s suggestion that he withhold any penalty to “teach dese weeny boys er lesson an’ make ‘em gib de people ernuff mustard.”
On Sept. 20, 1905, the Kennebec (Maine) Journal provided a preview of the “big Central Maine fair,” slated to start that day after a day’s delay occasioned by inclement weather. The hot dog vendor—or “frankfurter man,” as then denominated—would be there, marked by his “white coat and mustard pot,” the newspaper said.
The “frankfurter man” at the 1904 World’s Fair, whether selling from a cart, a stand, or a restaurant, had mustard on hand.
French’s Cream Salad Mustard was at that fair. But it was designed, as its name imparted, to be used in salads.
It seems utterly improbable that a patron buying a hot dog from a vendor with mustard pot at hand would decline the proffered condiment and take the wiener and bun to another stand where a salad ingredient was being demonstrated and obtain some of it as a topping.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
MetNews Main Page Reminiscing Columns