This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 28, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Growing up in the small, rural Texas town of Dime Box, we didn’t have many of the “amenities” found in larger towns and cities that were available in the 1940’s, such as fine restaurants and elegant concert halls. We did, however, have two saloons (or “beer joints” as they were called) in New Dime Box and one in Old Dime Box, and an SPJST Hall where the best country and German/Czech polka bands played. Very fond memories of both!
The “beer joints,” like the one my daddy owned when I was born, were family-friendly, and the whole family would spend the evening there. Consequently, each place sold something to eat, along with ice cream and soda water. There was just one food item on the menu, and that was chili with free crackers and catsup. In many of these Mom-and-Pop businesses, Pop ran the business, and Mom made the chili (my daddy was the exception, as he insisted on making the chili).
In later years, because of the nation-wide popularity of hamburgers, many of these places replaced chili on the menu with hamburgers. For whatever reason, I was late in being introduced to the Great American Hamburger, and I don’t remember eating my all-time favorite food until I was in the Boy Scouts. As a rural troop, we had one fund-raising project that lasted most of the year. We Scouts made and sold hamburgers at the County League Baseball games when held in our town. And on occasion, we sold hamburgers at the Turkey Shoots in our area. For what or whom the money was raised, I don’t remember.
If I recall correctly, each Scout who worked at the hamburger stand was entitled to one free burger. We made huge hamburgers with large meat patties, grilled camping-style, and fresh tomatoes, lettuce and onions from our parents’ gardens. Home-canned pickles came from our Mama’s pickle-storage pantries. Served on real hamburger buns. After eating my first self-made, Boy Scour super-burger, I was passionate about really good burgers the rest of my life!
Although we think of hamburgers as American as apple pie, there is some disagreement about where the wondrous thing originated. One congressman from Connecticut believes it was originated in New Haven, Connecticut by a Danish immigrant, Louis Lassen. Folks in Athens, Texas also boasted that the first hamburger was created in their town in the 1800’s by Uncle Fletcher Davis.
However, I was always told that the hamburger was invented by Otto Kuase in Hamburg, Germany, thus the reason it was called a “hamburger.” That makes a lot of sense to me as there is no ham in a hamburger.
Those of my generation remember Wimpy, a cartoon character in the old 1930’s and 1940’s comic strip, “Popeye.” Wimpy was a miser, a glutton, and a con artist who was the ultimate consumer of hamburgers in the Popeye strip. He is famous for his, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” It’s not surprising that a chain of hamburger “joints” were named “Wimpy’s.” However, the oldest burger chain in the U. S. is White Castle. MacDonald’s is the largest chain in the country.
As a hamburger lover, over the years, I found it was difficult to decide which of the many burger chains made the best burgers. During my teaching career, I taught in four towns or small cities, and discovered that the best burger joints were not the same in all of the towns. Dairy Queen had the best burgers in one place, Burger King in another, and in two of those towns, the best burger joints were local Mom and Pop places. Those were the days before Mom-and-Pop businesses lost out to the chains.
I was fortunate enough to marry a woman who liked hamburgers, not as passionately as I do, but well enough that she would agree whenever I suggested going to our favorite hamburger joint for supper that night. And she learned how to make some rather super burgers herself, much better than the ones I attempted to make. My great Boy Scout burger-making skills did not survive into old age.
I know that my vegan daughter and my health-food enthusiasts friends won’t agree with me, — but I think there is nothing as wonderful as a hamburger!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and a retired LCMS pastor, and author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies