I remember my first time. I was in tenth grade, and it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. I expected fireworks I think, something like artillery fire, maybe, right in the gut. I thought I’d swoon a little. That there would be some romance, some wining and dining. That is, after all, how everyone talks about him; there’s always food. None of that here. Instead, while it was quite short, it felt like it couldn’t be over fast enough. I hated it.
But then maybe I wasn’t old enough, worldly enough. Maybe it was my teacher, who’d done this at least 100 times before and was pretty bored with it. Maybe it’s because I was a girl? It’s been said that men prefer him.
Whatever the reason, I hated that book about that old guy and that freaking fish, and assumed that I hated Hemingway too. I read Faulkner, who I’d heard was his exact opposite, his prose all long and twisty instead of short and slanty. I loved Light in August. I figured I was just a Faulkner girl and that was that.
It was years before a picked Hemingway up again, but once I did I couldn’t stop. There was Robert Jordan and Maria in the grass, Pilar in the mountains rallying the men. There was Jake Barnes, his want red and jagged in the Spanish sun. There was Catherine, with her fabulous hair and fabulous clothes, and her mania tightening like a noose. There was food. And Paris. And dinners with F. Scott.
Hemingway’s work became something I bought in bulk, hoarded, and then parsed out slowly—one book a year, that’s it, or else I’ll read him too fast. I know he’s written quite a bit, but when stacked up against the remaining years of my life (hopefully), it just never seems like enough. So imagine how happy I was to hear about this recipe, for Papa’s favorite burger, that had been released recently by the John F Kennedy Presidential Library. Something else to read! Something to eat!
Found in Cuba with a slew of other documents, everything from manuscripts to car insurance statements, this recipe is exactly what you’d expect from Papa, so full of flavor that the meat barely binds into patties, fragrant and spicy. His cooking method, amusingly detailed and thorough, does produce the perfect pan-fried burger, dark and caramel-y on the outside, pink and juicy on the inside. With a good bottle of red and some appropriate music (and a Maine Coon named Ernie after his own polydactyl retinue) you can almost imagine you were eating with the great man himself, wincing your way through hunting stories and tales of infidelity. Which may, admittedly, put one off their food. Maybe better to eat it with just the cat.
Hemingway’s Favorite Hamburger
from the recipe above
1 lb. ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands Sage
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Mei Yen Pepper (see note below)
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About 1/3 cup dry red or white wine
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible.
Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying pan hot but not smoking when you drop the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over, put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.
9 parts salt
9 parts sugar
2 parts MSG
If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon Mei Yen Powder, use 2/3 tsp of the dry recipe (above) mixed with 1/8 tsp of soy sauce.
Drink: Something robust and manly (whatever that means), though I like a Petite Sirah