A Publication of WTVP

This year is slipping by, and I need to mention a milestone reached in American eating habits: the 100th anniversary of the hamburger.

Although there are many claims to the invention of the hamburger, it received widespread attention at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. A New York Tribune reporter wrote from St. Louis that there was a new sandwich called a hamburger being served by a vendor on the World's Fair midway.

Most Texans believe the vendor in question was Fletch Davis (1864-1941), also known as "Old Dave," who owned a lunch counter in Athens, Texas. Supposedly, at his Athens lunch counter, Davis took some raw hamburger steak, placed it on his flat grill, and fried it until it was crisply brown on both sides. Then, he placed it between two thick slices of homemade toast and added a thick slice of raw onion to the top. He offered it as a special to his patrons to see if they would like it.

Actually, the history of the hamburger can be traced back to the years around 1150. This hamburger discovery is slightly more graphic than Davis'. Genghis Khan (1167-1227) and his army of fierce Mongol horsemen conquered two-thirds of the known world. The Mongols were a fast moving, cavalry-based army that rode small, sturdy ponies. They stayed on their saddles for long periods of time and had little opportunity to stop and build a fire for their meal. The entire village would follow behind the army on wheeled carts leading huge herds of sheep, goats, oxen, and horses. As the army needed food that could be carried on their mounts and eaten easily with one hand while they rode, ground meat was the perfect choice. They would use scrapings of lamb or mutton, which were formed into flat patties. They softened the meat by placing them under their horse's saddle while riding into battle. When it was time to eat, the meat would be eaten raw, having been tenderized by the saddle on the back of their horses.

To further our history lesson in hamburgers, when Genghis Khan's grandson, Khubilai Khan, invaded Moscow a century later, they naturally brought their unique dietary ground meat with them. The Russians adopted it into their own cuisine with the name "steak tartare" (Tartars being the name for the Mongols). Over many years, Russian chefs adapted and developed this dish, refining it with chopped onions and raw eggs.

In the 1600s, ships from the German port of Hamburg began calling on Russian ports. During this period, the Russian steak tartare was brought back to Germany and called "tartare steak."
In the 1800s, German immigrants and the sailors who visited the ports of Hamburg began arriving in the United States and told restaurant owners in New York about the "Hamburg steak." The original Hamburg steak was a piece of meat that was pounded until tender-not chopped or ground.

In 2003, ground beef accounted for 60 percent of total beef consumption in the United States. That's either a lot of grilling or trips through the drive through.

Is it lunch time yet? IBI