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The History of the Hamburger

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Close your eyes and picture a hamburger. Whether the version in your imagination was bursting with lettuce, tomatoes and onions and oozing ketchup or not, it’s a sure bet that the picture included a bun. Without a bun it’s not a hamburger, just a hamburger patty, or what used to be known as a “Hamburger steak” or “Hamburg steak." Oh, and happy National Hamburger Day!

The Proto-hamburger, from Sausage to “Steak”

Exactly how a dish named for a German city evolved into one of America’s favorite foods is a riddle wrapped in a mystery on a sesame seed bun. The earliest reference to the ancestor of the hamburger appears in an English cookbook from 1763. Hannah Glasse in Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy tells how to make a Hamburg sausage. She mixes minced beef with suet, spices, wine, and rum and stuffs it into a gut, which is then smoked and dried. Except for the last steps converting it into a sausage, the minced meat and fat with spices could be a Hamburg steak. Strange as it seems, according to Mark H. Zanger’s article on Hamburg steaks in the online reference Daily Life Through History, in Germany, Hamburg never had a special association with chopped meat.

The first glimpse of Hamburg steak in Google Books is less than savory. According to the public documents of Massachusetts for 1835, “There were 689 samples of meat products examined during the year, of which 19 samples of Hamburg steak and 71 samples of sausages were adulterated.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines Hamburg steak as “a dish composed of flat balls of meat like fillets, made of chopped lean beef, mixed with beaten eggs, chopped onions and seasoning, and fried.” The oldest quotation the editors found is from the Boston Journal for 1884. Across the country in San Francisco, a menu from the Clipper Restaurant dated 1871 to 1884 lists Hamburg beefsteak for 10 cents, the same price as stewed mutton, tripe or salmon. A tenderloin steak was 20 cents. 

Getting Warmer: The Hamburger Sandwich 

Who turned a Hamburger steak into “the hamburger” by placing it on a bun? Zigzagging across the country again, we find many contenders. According to the Library of Congress, Louis’ Lunch Wagon in New Haven, Conn., served the first hamburgers in 1895. But their hamburger sandwiches were served between slices of bread. Close, but not the real deal.

There are more tantalizing hints. The Tombstone [Ariz.] Prospector for September 5, 1896 reported that the residents of Bisbee rejoiced at the arrival of a lunch wagon offering pies, hot “tomales,” hamburger sandwiches and other delicacies, “fully guaranteed to be free from all bad effects in the way of nightmares, indigestion, etc.” In 1902, a member of the Delta Sigma Delta fraternity described sampling the offerings at the Indiana State Fair: “I ate a hamburger sandwich, carefully eliminating the gravel and other foreign substances as I came to them,” but didn’t reveal whether the sandwich was on bread or a bun.  

According to an oft-repeated story, Fletcher Davis, a fry cook from the tiny town of Athens, Texas, popularized the hamburger sandwich at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Josh Ozersky in The Hamburger: A History, however, claims Frank X. Tolbert, the late columnist for the Dallas Morning News, concocted the story as well as the nonexistent New York Tribune article he used to back it up.   

Bun, Bun, Who’s Got the Bun? 

A 1911 restaurant-trade book, The Lunch Room calls for two slices of bread for a hamburger sandwich, but also says, about sandwiches in general, “In some localities the round bun sandwich is very popular.” Who can tell where those localities might be? In all likelihood, many a burger was borne on a bun unseen, to waste its perfume in some forgotten lunchroom. 

But in 1916, another fry cook, Walter Anderson of Wichita, Kan., developed a dense bun with a crisp crust especially to hold up to the juiciest hamburger. Ta-da! The quintessential hamburger was born. By 1920 he owned three hamburger stands and he teamed with an investor to expand the business. They designed buildings in the form of castles and painted them bright white to emphasize their devotion to cleanliness.  Sorry, Mickey D, Wendy, Wimpy and all the anonymous lunch wagon proprietors and family picnickers. At least for now, a founder of White Castle holds the title of inventor of the hamburger.

Now, fire up that grill and enjoy a juicy burger on a toasted bun.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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