Bunches and Bunches of Burgers!

IMAGINE what the world would be like without door handles, or traffic lights, or adhesive tape, or hamburgers!

There are so many inventions that we don't even think about. They are just there. It is as if they have always been there.

But there was a time, not so long ago, when the only sticky way to do up a package was with a brown paper tape that you had to lick. It tasted like, well, like brown-paper-tape-glue. Disgusting. Ugh. I remember this brown tape from when I was a child, and if you got it too wet - by using a sponge or something - all the glue washed off and it became useless.

And there was a time, before the brown tape, when not only were there no traffic lights, but no need for them because there wasn't much traffic. Most vehicles were pulled by horses, and their drivers generally went slowly and were probably more polite than car drivers.

Then a very, very long time ago, there were no door handles. No handles because there were no doors. You just walked through a hole into your cave. Maybe some skins hung there to keep the wind out. Who knows. But skins needed no handles.

Most extraordinary of all is the amazing, astonishing, dumbfounding, and discombobulating fact that for billions of years the inhabitants of the earth had to get along - think about it! - without hamburgers. However did they survive?

According to ``The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,'' the first recorded mention of a ``hamburger steak'' was in a newspaper published in Walla Walla, Wash., in 1889. I'm not sure it was what we would call a hamburger - with buns on top and bottom, and maybe onions and relish and ketchup. The same dictionary mentions a 1902 cookbook recipe for a ``hamburg steak'' made of ground beef, onion, and pepper.

Since that time, various people have claimed that they were the first person to make a true hamburger. The truth seems likely, however, to be that they all thought of it. As with many scientific inventions, a number of people working independently simply arrived, like traffic converging at an intersection, at almost the same idea.

Hamburgers just had to exist, so people had to invent them.

And since then, hamburgers have spread throughout the world as if they had legs. In the United States alone, the average person consumes nearly 30 pounds of hamburger meat annually. Thirty-eight billion hamburgers are eaten each year. Or at least that is according to a new book called ``Hamburger Heaven,'' by Jeffrey Tennyson. Eager hamburger buffs can find endless facts and fictions in this book. Surely more than have ever been put together in one place before.

There can be few people anywhere who, hearing the word ``burger,'' still think of its original meaning. Spelled with an ``h,'' ``burgher'' was, particularly in the middle ages, the word for a town-dweller. It comes from the German word ``burg,'' a town.

Hamburgers also come originally from Germany, or very primitive versions of them. There is a northern seaport in Germany called Hamburg, and it is believed that the fondness of this city's residents for pounded beefsteak found its way to the United States when Germans emigrated there. What Americans did to the idea was turn it into quick convenience food - speedily cooked, easy to serve, easy to eat. It can be eaten on the street, in the backyard cooked on a barbecue, in a car at a traffic light, or anywhere at all. It can even be eaten politely in a restaurant.

Having invented the hamburger, Americans then set about the business of keeping it interesting by inventing variations. So to the word ``burger'' have been added a stream of different words and meanings: Cheeseburgers vie with baconburgers and even with meatless burgers. There are fishburgers and crabburgers. Odd that no one seems to have thought of putting ham in a hamburger. If they did, it should probably be called a hamhamburger. Then there have been miniburgers and babyburgers, not to mention Dagwood burgers, Olive burgers, and Peter Pan burgers. Brand names have been attached to house-specialty burgers, from Huddle-Burgers and Biff-Burgers to Ship-Shape Burgers and Wimpy Burgers.

The appearance of the hamburger is so well known to everyone that people have made hamburger-shaped hats and wristwatches and money boxes and candles. They have even made cakes that look like hamburgers. Painters have painted pictures of them and sculptors have made sculptures of them, and pronounced them art. Such artburgers have taken a variety of forms. One of the most impressive was made by a Pop artist in 1962, out of sailcloth stuffed with foam. Called ``Giant Hamburger,'' this big soft sculpture is now in a museum. The sculptor is Claes Oldenburg. It has always puzzled me why he didn't call it ``Giant Oldenburger.''

Hamburgers are a 20th-century invention that are here to stay. But I wonder if people from the 18th century were to return, might they wonder what we all think is so special about hamburgers? They are just beef sandwiches, aren't they?

No, they are not.

I recently - feeling famished after doing very little work all morning - thought it was time I reminded myself what is so different about hamburgers. It had been years since I had eaten one. Somehow I had just gotten out of the hamburger habit.

Anyway, off I drove to a nearby hamburger drive-thru. I gave my order: One hamburger. No frills, I thought, no extras, no lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, or mayonnaise. No double decking. Let's have the authentic experience of basic bun and beef. Hamburger as nature intended.

I paid at the second window.

I was handed a bag at the third window.

I found a parking place and delved into the bag.

Well, there isn't much to it, the ordinary, everyday, simple hamburger. It is rather a poor little thing - with thin soft buns, a tiny patty of beef, a minute touch of relish. Oh, it tasted fine. But it was gone in a few seconds. I still felt hungry.

So I headed for a different hamburger place in the other end of the city. This time I got out of the car, walked up to the counter, and ordered a humongous burger.

That was more like it. It was a meal. After digging into my two-handed burger for quite some time (it had a barbecue-grill-charcoaly-smoky kind of taste), I was not only satisfied that hamburgers are alive and well, I was also covered in grease and relish and many other good things. I had reminded myself why a true and messy hamburger cannot be described as just some tidy old beef sandwich.

By then it was midafternoon, and, after popping into the library, I came home.

As I worked away at my desk that evening, smells rising up the stairs from the kitchen below set my nostrils twitching. There was something tempting and somehow very familiar about those smells.

``What are we having for supper?'' I called down to my wife.

``You'll see,'' she said.

And 10 minutes later, I did see.

It was hamburgers.

That is the way it is sometimes when you open the door of your mind and let in a notion! I can't remember when we last had hamburgers at home. And it was years since I had gone out and bought one. Then, all in one day, I had hamburgers three times.

You know, I don't think I'll wait so long before next time. They really do taste a whole lot better than brown-tape glue. `Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, usually on Tuesdays.

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