The Food Almanac: July 4, 2013

Today's Flavor
It's National Cheeseburger Day. Although hot dogs, apple pie, meat loaf, and macaroni and cheese all possess high levels of Americanism, nothing tops the cheeseburger. It's the most popular dish in this country. Even upscale and ethnic restaurants offer cheeseburgers, because they know that a percentage of the population is always hungry for a good burger. It's in the running with rock and roll and Coca-Cola as the bit of American culture that has spread most widely over the earth.

Adding cheese to a hamburger is such a natural enhancement that significantly more cheeseburgers are sold than plain hamburgers. Who first came up with the idea is a matter of debate, but the breakthrough occurred in the 1920s. A restaurant in Denver registered the word "cheeseburger" as a service mark in 1935. It hardly matters now: cheeseburgers are universal.

To make a good cheeseburger, one must first make a good hamburger. There is no single perfect way to do this. Thin hamburgers seared on a very hot flat-top griddle can be as delicious as a thick, loose burger grilled over charcoal. Even the little square hamburgers with steamed onions made by White Castle and its ilk have a certain appeal.

The standard cheese used on a cheeseburger is–logically enough–American cheese. Grated cheddar is the minimum step up needed to make a cheeseburger stand out. The trend in recent times for other kinds of cheeses on burgers have resulted in some good ones (pepper jack cheeseburgers) and some bad (blue cheeseburgers).

For several decades I've eaten my one and only McDonald's meal of the year on the Fourth of July. It's usually a double cheeseburger. It will make me feel my American-ness vividly. I will not have iced tea with that.

Edible Dictionary
patty melt, n.–A cheeseburger variant made by pan-grilling slices of rye bread in butter, and then searing a hamburger patty in the same pan. When the patty is turned to cook the second side, a slice or two of cheese (classically American, but everything is rising upscale these days, so use what you like) is placed on top. By the time the second side of the burger is ready, the cheese has melted into the fissures in the meat and become one with it. Sometimes a second layer of cheese is added to the other side. Common variations involve using white or wheat bread or a hamburger bun instead of the rye, serving it with no bread at all, or adding grilled onions to the sandwich. It's the sort of thing you find more often in diners than hamburger shops.

Food Records
Today in 2010, South Carolina chef Tommy Moore and his crew made a single barbecue pulled pork sandwich that weighed 1337 pounds. And then he said to the customer, "Now you tell me you wanted cole slaw on it!"

Gourmet Gazetteer
The people who live in Hamburg, Arkansas must have a lot of fun calling each other Hamburgers, especially on the Fourth Of July. It's a town of 3050 people in the southeast corner of the state, twenty-three miles north of the Louisiana state line. Its most famous native is retired basketball great Scottie Pippen. The preferred places to eat are Sawyer's Steakhouse and T&T Hog Hut, both in the middle of town.

Deft Dining Rule #418
Never order a hamburger in a restaurant with tablecloths.

Food In The Sky
Today in 1054 was the birthday of the Crab Nebula–at least from our perspective. Chinese astronomers noted and recorded a supernova so bright that it easily could be seen in the daytime, and outshone everything but the moon at night. The exploding star dimmed slowly, and where it was in the sky you now see the glowing crab-shaped cloud of gas and dust (if you have a telescope, anyway).

World Food Records
Nathan's Famous opened a hot dog stand at Coney Island today in 1916. They make a skinny but very good hot dog. To publicize it, they began a hot dog-eating contest that still goes on annually. Six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi was banned from the contest a couple of years ago, after he and Major League Eating could not arrive at a contract. (That sounds like a joke, but it's actually true. Kobeyashi has since formed a competing contest.)

Annals Of Pizza Marketing
Today in 1993, the Pizza Hut blimp suffered a deflation and came down on the streets of New York. Safely; nobody was hurt.

Annals Of Wine Marketing
Today in 2006, Georges duBoeuf–the king of Beaujolais Nouveau–was fined $30,000 for falsely labeling over a quarter-million bottles of wine. Grapes not allowed by law into the Beaujolais blend were used, the French court found.

Annals Of Spirits Marketing
Hiram Walker was born today in 1816. He was a grocer in Detroit who opened a liquor distillery across the river in Canada. His Hiram Walker's Club Whiskey, made in a lighter style than Bourbon and other American whiskies, was so popular that American distillers demanded a law to have the country of origin on every bottle of whiskey. No problem for Walker: he changed the name to Canadian Club, and it still sells mightily. In Canada, whiskey can be aged in used oak barrels (they must all be new for Bourbon), hence its lighter flavor. Some drinkers like that, but I'm not one of them. For decades, a brilliant sign advertising Canadian Club was a landmark on Canal Street and Elk Place in downtown New Orleans.

Food Namesakes
NFL running back Emerson Boozer was born today in 1943. . . Joey Chestnut won the International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan's on Coney Island today in 2007 (see above). . . Singer and songwriter Michael Sweet gave forth his first lyrics today in 1963. . . American popular composer Irving Caesar was born today in 1895.

The Saints
It's the feast day of Blessed Patrick Salmon, who was martyred brutally in Dorchester, England in 1594.

Words To Eat By
"A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe, but I think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die."–Mark Twain.

"If the melting pot exists, the cheeseburger may well be its most palpable product; to take a bite of it is to take a bite of history."–Elizabeth Rozin, American food writer.