Additional props are potato chips, pickles and olives
May 27, 2015 5:55 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times has been around long enough to report on more or less everything, and its First Glimpses feature occasionally dives into the archives to see when some notable thing was mentioned for the very first time. This week, it's cheeseburgers.

The article from June 12th, 1938, also discusses "a burning hot dish called chili" and is more concerned with the strange shapes taken on by California eateries at the time (including the famed Brown Derby).

Other recent First Glimpses include a 1939 article lauding "Negro backfield ace" Jack Robinson of the UCLA football team (who would later be called Jackie and integrate Major League Baseball), Frisbees (which "are plastic disks sailed through the air in the manner of coffee can tops"), and basket ball, complete with a 1-0 score.
posted by Etrigan (37 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
“At first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which sometimes are used, may seem bizarre,”

I guess that pickles and lettuce were still a little too avant-garde for 1947.
posted by octothorpe at 6:09 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Competition being what it is, Kum Inn, Duck Inn, Mammy's Shack and the Pig Parlour are almost inevitable.

Suddenly I appreciate the ampersand restaurant names of recent years. Food & Drink.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:23 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be lovely it the design trend for fast food restaurants continued as whimsical shapes? A world of giant fruit, various giant hats, perhaps a chain of sewing machine buffets? Run down to the big wrench for a slice? Eat Sushi IN Sushi shaped bars. Legislate less boring architecture!!
posted by sammyo at 6:24 PM on May 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


“At first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which sometimes are used, may seem bizarre,”

It is bizarre to me that such an obvious combination was a novelty that recently. Surely people have been turning cheap and tough cuts into ground meat for a much longer time, and once you have ground meat, bread, and cheese you have all the key ingredients.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:32 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Didn't people around this time eat jellied pig hooves and put aspic all over the table?

I guess if you think if you about putting cold tomatoes and some sliced cheese on a steak it's kinda weird? Maybe? Aren't stewed /warmed up toms a common old timey side dish anyway?

I love food history like this... What we think is gross /tasty/weird.
posted by sio42 at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2015


It is bizarre to me that such an obvious combination was a novelty that recently

I don't think it was at all obvious - maybe only seems that way now because it's become commonplace. Cheese was just not added to everything until fairly recently. It was a food of its own, mostly, eaten sliced as a course or accompaniment to bread or pie, not a topping. Macaroni and cheese was a rare exception. I think for "cheeseburger" to have occurred to anyone, you had to first see massive drops in the production cost of both beef and cheese, to make these two foods available on a regular basis in the first place, and then to combine them.

We still have a pretty widespread prohibition on combining seafood and cheese. I suspect people thought of beef that way. You could add cheese, but...why would you?
posted by Miko at 7:26 PM on May 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Phillys.
posted by clavdivs at 7:42 PM on May 27, 2015


Wouldn't it be lovely it the design trend for fast food restaurants continued as whimsical shapes?
The closest thing was the earlier Jack in the Box drive-thrus that were big box-shaped things that you could imagine Jack popping out of.

My father worked across the street from the Original Brown Derby restaurant (the one that WAS shaped like a hat) and when I, as a kid, visited his office, that's where he took me to lunch. Coincidentally, Brown Derby served very good (but overpriced) Chili.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:57 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Weren't Cheesesteaks invented in the early 20th century? Shouldn't that have, I dunno, made cheeseburgers a little less novel?
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:09 PM on May 27, 2015


Delicious, delicious props.

(Unlike so many other props. Except for the chicken they had on What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.)
posted by Samizdata at 8:14 PM on May 27, 2015


Growing up, I used to have stacks of Mad Magazine digests, reprints in cheap paperback form of old content from the magazine's early days. And there's one article that I remember that I haven't been able to find anywhere online. It talked about this new food fad that was sweeping the nation. The main satirical points were:
  • This food is weird. It's super spicy and hot;
  • It's going to give you indigestion;
  • No one knows how to eat it, and it always gets all over their charcoal grey suit, and;
  • All the "normal" restaurants are being replaced by this weird foreign import.
It touched on gentrification and authenticity; it could have been written with slight modifications about any number of cuisines in the past 50 years - Mexican in the 80s or Thai or Indian in the 90s; maybe Vietnamese or Korean today; perhaps Ethiopian or Peruvian or Afghan in the not-too-distant-future.

The article was about pizza.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:42 PM on May 27, 2015 [14 favorites]


I forget which 50s equiette guide it was, someone well known, but when they discussed Pizza, they mentioned must always be eaten with a knife and fork, because it is a pie.

Sophia Loren apparently once said she thought New York must be a very poor place cause of all the pizza places she saw on her first trip.

This has been Pizza Anecdotes.
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 PM on May 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


(I swear there's an entire sub genre of mid century humor called Anglos Try Spagetthi And It Goes Everywhere)
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 PM on May 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's a good thing I live in the boonies in Korea where the only burger place is a Lotteria (which is vile), because otherwise I would EAT CHEESEBURGERS EVERY DAMNED DAY and have to up my exercise from an hour a day to 6 hours a day to compensate, which might not be strictly feasible.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:16 PM on May 27, 2015


As in all things, it depends on what you're used to, I guess. Pass the Garum goes over an ancient Roman recipe for fish-and-cheese, which is certainly an odd combo for us today but was apparently commonplace then.

I'm curious when bleu-cheese-on-steak became a thing, now.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:34 PM on May 27, 2015


I'm curious when bleu-cheese-on-steak became a thing
In the 1950s (maybe earlier) Black Angus restaurants served blue cheese with the salad. My father always kept it to put on his baked potato, which came with the steak. But, salad or steak, it's a good combination. Cheese and seafood is more problematic, but possible, depending on the sea creature and the type of cheese and the method of preparation. As far as beef plus tomato plus cheese goes, I'm certain pasta/rice combinations were around in the 1930s, some Italianish, some Tex-Mexish. (I have some old recipe books from my great-aunts which go back to the early 20th Century.)
posted by CCBC at 10:47 PM on May 27, 2015


Blue cheese has a kind of manly steak and potato vibe from at least the early 20th century.

Coquilles St. Jacques is a good cheese and seafood combo, but it's the only one I can really think of and its not really common, these days you'd serve the scallop alone or much less mucked with
posted by The Whelk at 10:57 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Tuna Melts are of course good, if you like Tuna Melts. Which I do.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:06 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


It is bizarre to me that such an obvious combination was a novelty that recently.

The first nachos ever weren't consumed until 1943.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:39 PM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Homeboy Trouble, I do believe this is the Mad Magazine article you are remembering. (I had scads of Mad paperbacks too. :) )
posted by themanwho at 11:46 PM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


1928: Cheeseburger listed on LA Menu
1938: The Times Discovers the Cheeseburger

New NYT Style Section motto: Highlighting Trends 10 Years Late, For The Last Hundred Years
posted by benzenedream at 12:24 AM on May 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


So when did Louis' Lunch in Connecticut start adding cheese to their hamburgers?
posted by elsietheeel at 12:44 AM on May 28, 2015


New NYT Style Section motto: Highlighting Trends 10 Years Late, For The Last Hundred Years

Or "The New York Times: A Hundred Years of rediscovering that civilization exists west of the Hudson River".
posted by octothorpe at 3:55 AM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is a wonderful thread.
posted by JHarris at 5:42 AM on May 28, 2015


bleu-cheese-on-steak

blue aaauuugh blue blue blue

bleu is French
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:55 AM on May 28, 2015


Well, the other thing is that I think we have to note that regionality was far, far stronger before midcentury. The separate zones of the US really did have different diets, and there wasn't a rapid transfer of one to the other. Recently I was working on a project in which I used some scholarship about how the general pattern of dealing with a new "foodscape" was xenophobia, moving to experimentation/negotiation, leading finally to adaptation, adoption, or assimilation. Xenophobia almost always leads ("WTF is this bizarre food these people eat") and only the most adventurous are willing to give it a try, but pretty soon when they don't die, and they testify to other members of their cultural tribe that it's good, it becomes the bee's knees. But these processes cycle really fast today because we have continental flights and food blogs and Twitter and national mass media and people whose identity is constructed around being in the know about food. Very little of that was true in the 20s and 30s. There weren't even food writers, as we know them, yet. So regional trends really were strongly regional and spread quite slowly, and I wouldn't expect a Times writer to be super familiar with California trends. Add to that the fact that the Times wasn't a nationally distributed paper at that time (that's really recent) - I don't know if it even had a West Coast bureau yet - and whatever a Times reporter had to say to an audience at home that had never heard of it was news, for them.
posted by Miko at 6:22 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


(I swear there's an entire sub genre of mid century humor called Anglos Try Spagetthi And It Goes Everywhere)

The contemporary sequel should be "Anglos Try Phô and It Goes Everywhere".)
posted by aught at 6:49 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


bleu-cheese-on-steak

blue aaauuugh blue blue blue

bleu is French


Huh.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:07 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


As to why the cheeseburger wasn't invented earlier? Each cheeseburger takes three cows to make: one for the beef, one for the cheese milk, and one for the cheese rennet.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:26 AM on May 28, 2015


More detail here.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:28 AM on May 28, 2015


Pretty sure the same cow you grind up to eat can provide rennet for making cheese. And his seasonality argument only holds in some parts of the USA. In parts of California, for example, you can easily have tomatoes and lettuce year round.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 AM on May 28, 2015


In parts of California, for example, you can easily have tomatoes and lettuce year round.

Yeah, but that wasn't true in the rest of the country even as short a time ago as the 20s. That's why you can still find diner menus that call a burger with lettuce and tomato a "California" burger - that kind of fresh produce was highly seasonal in the East until the rail networks and cold chain were perfected. And not only did the transportation technology need to mature, but so did agricultural technology. In the East, for instance, until full industrialization the standard lettuce was a butterhead type, Boston lettuce, and the standard tomatoes were soft summer-only varieties. Once California's agriculture industry discovered they could use rail networks to ship produce around the country for a premium price, they slowly developed food varieties that could withstand transport. Until, for instance, iceberg lettuce was relatively unknown in the East before the 20s, but became the "standard" lettuce because it was available year-round, transported reasonably well, and remained stiff and crisp for a long time after picking. It edged out butterhead, not because it tasted better, but because of that consistent availability. There are similar stories about particular tomato varieties - not only did it take some time for them to stop being only seasonally available, the industry actually ended up replacing specific varieties entirely with more seasonless versions tough enough to be transported. For more on all this see Fresh: A Perishable History by Susanne Friedberg and Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America by Jonathan Rees. More too in Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook.
posted by Miko at 9:13 AM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


As for infinitewindow's article, though, I really agree about seasonality. I simply do not buy fresh tomatoes when they're not in season. The Cali/Mex hard, long-distance tomatoes are terrible and they are just not worth it. They look like tomatoes, sort of, but they don't taste like tomatoes. I am a lot happier just eating them in season, when I can get them fresh, grown somewhere in the Northeast, and truly ripe.
posted by Miko at 9:17 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always heard that the popularity of cheese on hamburgers was related to the introduction of American cheese which has a very low melting point compared to other cheeses and doesn't have the tendency to become stringy.
posted by laptolain at 9:37 AM on May 28, 2015


I grew up on older MAD Magazine content too... I remember another article, probably from the late 1960s when "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" was a hot topic. I don't remember many specifics but it was basically about how weird and spicy and full of MSG Chinese food is and how sick it makes you.

Much more recently than that, in the mid-1990s I had a contemporary Better Homes cookbook (with the iconic red and white checkered cover) that was appallingly bland. I remember there being a recipe in that book for something like nachos or possibly even chili con carne where hot peppers were mentioned as a timid afterthought for the truly adventurous, and even then the quantity suggested was so small as to be undetectable.
posted by usonian at 10:16 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but that wasn't true in the rest of the country even as short a time ago as the 20s.

Oh, for sure. I was only referring to the specific person in the article by infinitewindow.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:24 AM on May 28, 2015


"Hamburg pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity-flop!"

Kewpee/Halo burger. 1923.
posted by clavdivs at 6:12 PM on May 28, 2015


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