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Food History

History of the Hamburger

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Delicious hamburger and fries

A juicy, succulent grilled all-beef patty tucked into a pillowy fresh bun is an ode to all-American deliciousness. Grilled to perfection using the best firewood for sale, it’s comforting, it’s filling, you can dress it up, dress it down or don’t dress it at all. The Hamburger has become an American classic attracting tourists young and old to America from all over the world! Many au pairs come to America to experience the culture and the food is an added bonus. If you are interested in becoming an au pair, be sure to visit Cultural Care Au Pair for information on how to do so! With all of this awesomeness to celebrate, it certainly is no surprise that there are many people that have laid claim to the invention of the modern day hamburger. As far as records go, the truth lies somewhere in the US in the latter half of the 19th century or the first half of the 20th century.

The Hamburg Connection

These days, if you asked anyone to describe what a hamburger is, it’d be pretty simple stuff: a beef patty on a bun with some condiments like ketchup and mustard and toppings like onion and tomato.


This whole hamburger hoopla may not have happened had it not been to a certain port by the name of Hamburg and a whole lot of immigrants coming to America from that launching pad. Just like the mighty pizza which came all the way from Italy, the Hamburger is also a foreign delicacy. You might have seen fast food joints using pizza ovens like ooni karu 16 to bake the dough, which evolved from the accident method of making pizzas on hot ashes. Similarly, the original hamburger a la the Hamburg port would have been a version of steak tartare, which is raw minced meat speckled with spice. This version began to be served up in the latter half of the 19th century to appeal to the European immigrants arriving in New York.

First came the Salisbury

There are many claims made as to when the raw version began to be served fully-cooked. Credit has been given to Dr. James H. Salisbury who prescribed the cooked version to his patients and in turn Salisbury Steak was invented, which could have been the precursor to today’s hamburger.

The salisbury steak began to be served in between two pieces of bread and that is how the salisbury enters into the history of the hamburger. However, claims to when that happens vary and come from different areas from the United States. It is however, commonly understood that the change to eating salisbury steak in between two pieces of bread arose as a necessity for people on the go, people with no time to sit down with a knife and fork.

The smoking bun

As any hamburger lover knows, the bun is of the utmost importance and any old pieces of bread just won’t do. It is believed that the bun and the burger married at one of the many fairs that take place across the US, however who exactly did it first is disputed but in the history of the hamburger it likely occurred around the last decade of the 19th century.

The burger goes viral

The official mass market version can be credited to American burger chain White Castle. White Castle began serving up yummy burgers in 1921 in the midwestern US. These burgers were just $0.05 when the restaurant first opened its doors. The first restaurant was in Kansas, but the popularity of the burger in just the first year had the chain expanding quickly to neighboring States.

The Golden Arches

It is safe to say that McDonald’s is one of the most widely recognized brands in the world and burgers are their business. The company opened up in 1955 and hasn’t looked back since. It was with the opening of fast food chains like McDonald’s that the combination of a burger, fries and a soft drink became the standard service of a burger meal.

A look back at The Roman

In its present-day form, the hamburger is intrinsically tied with American culture, however its beginnings are likely not American and likely not as simple and humble as today’s version. A version of the mincemeat patty may have been around in the 4th century thanks to some crafty Roman cooks. The Roman version involves the use of pine nuts as well as wine, making it an upgraded version of your traditional burger. Here is a quick recipe for you to make your own Roman burger, you can have it with or without bread.

Roman Burger Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 mins.

1 lb ground beef
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 slice Italian bread
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorn
extra virgin olive oil


  1. Lightly coat grill grates with a little extra virgin olive oil
  2. Place pine nuts and peppercorn in a spice blender and crush into a powder.
  3. Rip bread into small pieces.
  4. Place wine in saucepan and bring to boil, reduce until syrupy, set aside to cool.
  5. Combine beef with cooled wine, bread, pine nut mixture and salt.
  6. Shape meat into 4 patties and place on grill over direct heat until grill marks appear.
  7. Remove burgers to indirect heat and cook for another few minutes until cooked through.

The hamburger warriors

The next theory of hamburger history is oh-so very interesting and very clever too. Since hamburgers and fast food go hand-in-hand, it is no surprise that the hamburger is not just tasty but its also viewed as a grab-n-go mood. Now, the Mongols of the 12th century had a similar idea. As they whipped through parts of Asia atop horse, charging and massacring, they had little time to stop for vittles. So picture this, as they raced through the continents they had a piece of meat cooking right under their saddles.

The classic burger is a fast-food staple but it is also one of those foods that taste especially awesome when served up by your fave griller at your fave local diner. Of course if you want to get schmancy-fancy and go gourmet, some of the most expensive restaurants around will have their very own uber-priced versions. Suffice it to say, a burger, a beer, good friends and a Friday night is basically all kinds of awesome Americana waiting to happen.

History of the Bagel

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New York Bagel

It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago the only kind of edible, soft ring known in North America was sweet and covered in sugar or sprinkles. In reality, there is a history of the bagel that goes far back to the old World. These days’ donuts take a back seat to the morning bagel in cities across North America.


In case you haven’t left your home since forever and don’t know what a bagel is, here’s the simple explanation. Bagels are similar to bead in consistency and made of yeast, water, salt, and whole wheat and some sort of sweetening agent.

Bagels are round and have a whole in the middle. Bagels are rolled into form and once that’s done they’re popped into boiling water for a quick minute before being baked. Although baking is the traditional method of cooking, some operations use steam to cook the bagels.

A good bagel has a nice, crispy, slightly salt exterior and a soft, chewy interior. Besides a plain bagel you can also get it topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds at most places. Some outfits that are dedicated to the art of bagel-making offer flavors like cinnamon raisin, flaxseed, Asiago cheese and more.

Although bagels look nice and compact, they can cost you close to 300 calories as opposed to two slices of toast which come in at half the calorie-count.

New York or Montreal

As you move along in your bagel exploration journey you will come to discover that you have a preference for either the New York bagel or the Montreal bagel. The New York bagel is salty and baked while the Montreal-style bagel is dipped in sweetened water before being wood-fired. The wood-firing combined with the sugar gives the Montreal bagel a distinct sweet, crispy coating. The New York bagel on the other hand is made with a little salt in the dough and often comes topped with crunchy little poppy seeds


The birthplace of what we know as the modern-day bagel is believed to be Poland. A tale which is likely more fiction than fact claims that the bagel was invented in honor of the king of Poland, Jan Sobieski.  As the story goes, a bread maker rolled some dough in the shape of a stirrup belonging to the King. This honorable bestowing of a stirrup-shaped bagel came after the king saved Poland from Turkish invaders.

The bagel was popular not only for its taste but also for several functional reasons like the fact that it stayed fresh longer than bread due to its boiling process. Additionally, a bagel could be dunked in some tea or coffee to get it soft and moist and it wouldn’t melt away like bread would.

The Journey to America

As more and more immigrants from Eastern Europe settled into the United States, the demand for Eastern European goods grew. One of the biggest demands was that for traditional breads including bagels. The increased demand was difficult for small, local bakers to keep up with and with that came mass production of bagels. This mass production brought the bagel full circle, with the increased availability of bagels leading to increased demand and vice versa.

In fact the early 20th century boasted the creation of a bagel baker’s union which regulated bagel baking in New York. Although he early years had bagel consumption strictly in the domain of the Jewish public, this changed dramatically after the Second World War. As the Jewish community moved out of Jewish districts in central New York so did bagels. The 1950s saw bagels slowly gaining mainstream popularity. As large bakeries opened up across New York, bagels started popping up all over the place as an alternate bread choice. In fact, the bagel and cream cheese combination proved so popular that it became a popular staple at breakfast joints across New York City.

Mass production of the bagel lead bakery owners to search for methods to preserve the bagel so that the fresh taste was maintained several days after production. It was quickly discovered that bagels could be frozen and then thawed without losing their flavor and texture. Slowly, quietly but surely, bagels made their way into supermarkets across the country.

Americans quickly developed a taste for cream cheese and bagels, this combination can be found in just about any coffee shop across the country these days.

The history of the bagel is complex and it may have come from a long way off, but it has been adopted and is well-loved across the nation. In fact, many people would tell you that the bagel is an American invention created in New York.

History of the Beignet

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Beignets – Cafe Du Monde

Light, fluffy, delightful things come in small square packages according to the history of the beignet. If you’re not familiar with these guys then think donuts without the hole, sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Beignets are traditionally served fresh and hot, which also makes them a common breakfast dish in parts of the America South.

Unlike traditional donuts, beignets are made with choux pastry. Now, if you didn’t grow up in a home that smelled of fresh baking than perhaps the term choux pastry is foreign to you. Choux pastry is dough made up of water, butter, flour and eggs. What makes it choux pastry is that there is no agent like yeast helping it to rise. Rather the raise occurs thanks to  moisture from steam.

Typically choux pastry is used to make baked goodies but beignets on the other hand are fried. Additionally, some places have taken up the habit of making beignets with yeast dough, which changes the texture of the beignets, but rest assured the deliciousness remains.

Although the traditional beignet is simple sugary dough, fried and powdered, these days you can find yourself an altogether different beignet animal. Beignets can be stuffed with a fruit filling or piped with chocolate or cream, regardless of their filling, the powdered sugar remains.

Who Done It                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

As with all things great, everyone wants to claim ownership or at least claim some sort of connection to the ownership. The history of the beignet therefore has a whole lot of volunteers claiming ancestry. Although popular theory indicates that the beignet is a French invention alone, the reality is that these sweet little treats may have been introduced to Europe courtesy of the Moors.

The Moors, or medieval Muslims, invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 7th century and took power in Spain and neighboring countries. The Muslim courts have a rich food history and many of these foods made their way into Spanish cooking.

Records of the Arab donut, zulaabiyyah indicate it has been around since at least the 9th century, long before the French version. Another version of the donut called luqmat al-qadi has been around since at least the 13th century.

There are a variety of reasons to believe that is the Caliphate that brought these sweet treats into the heart of Europe, one of them being the fact that creating a beignet is an expensive undertaking.

Beignets are fried which means the heavy use of fats, something only the rich could afford.

The word beignet however has a French connection and the fritter itself is tied to 16th century France and Mardi Gras festivities. The real intrigue appears with the inference that the beignet may have been transported to the land of the Eiffel Tower via Spain. In fact the French term for little fried dough balls in the Middle Ages was Spanish beignets.

Additionally a version of the beignet exists in Muslim, Christian and Jewish histories as a morsel to feast on while breaking the fast. Although modern religious traditions have created deep divides in religion, 7th century Andalusia had members of all three religions living side by side.

Fast forward to 18th century America and the story of the beignet changes drastically. There are several theories about how exactly the beignet came to be in the United States of America. One of the theories credits the arrival of the famous beignet to Ursuline nuns in the 18th century.

Another equally popular story is the arrival of the beignet care of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. The Acadians are the descendants of French settlers in Acadia which in present-day covers a large swath of Eastern Canada, specifically the Maritimes. The Acadians were deported from Canada during British rule in the 18th century with large numbers of them resettling in Louisiana or returning to France.

Regardless of who actually introduced the recipe, there is agreement that it did come from French settlers. Although today the beignet is often found in fancy cafes, its American origins stem from housewives in tiny little kitchens in the South.

Women would knead the dough for the day’s bread and take from that dough ball a smaller portion to fry up for the morning’s breakfast. These fried pieces of dough, often sweetened with honey, would be sent with the men out into the fields and so the odern breakfast beignet in shi-shi coffee shop has very humble beginnings.



Today the beignet is not humble grub, but rather something that deserves a pedestal as a café feature. The famed Café du Monde in New Orleans is famous for its beignets which it serves up alongside chicory-laced coffee. The beignet and chicory coffee combo has historical roots itself. Coffee was scarce in the 18th and 19th centuries and as a result, drinkers added chicory to create a more robust flavor.

The history of the modern beignet may be murky but what is clear is that a hot, soft, plump, doughy piece of powdered sugary goodness is much beloved.

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