Sunday, 11 December 2011

"Hot Dogs" as a Way of Speaking

One of the complexities of being the only English speaker in a very civilized family (nine doctors at last count!) is that they turn to me, confused, when something American doesn’t make sense to them. Take , for instance, Tante Ursula, a retired anesthetist who has a huge back yard of growing edibles—to stoke her passion as the family’s best cook.

At a recent family dinner celebrating my wife’s 45 birthday, Aunt U was dispensing her fabulous pumpkin soup adorned with finely sliced frankfurters. “What is a hot dog, Patrick? Where does the name come from?” Tricky question! No idea! So I Googled it. (The 21st century’s Eleventh Commandment: When in doubt, thou shalt Google.) So we did—for dessert, I and Hildegard’s brother, Martin, a university bookstore manager. He in German, me in English. The results were simply astonishing!

You have to begin in Germany! Frankfurterwurstschens (little Wursts) is obvious, but not so obvious as a pork sausage served in a bun similar to hot dogs as far back as the 13th century. The buns replaced white gloves dispensed to protect the customers against the heat of the cooked sausages. Tourists grew so fond of these gloves that they stole too many as souvenirs! Thereafter the plain bun ruled. Starting with the coronation of Maximilian II , Holy Roman Emperor as King the “franks” were given to the people to celebrate the occasion. The weenie I learned derived from Wien (Vienna) where a sausage of pork and beef thrived. Hamburger comes from the famous German port.

Around 1870 a German immigrant Charles Feltman started selling selling sausages in rolls at Coney Island. The notion of a hot dog on a bun is ascribed to the wife of one Antonoine Feushtwanger, A Bavarian sausage seller who utilized the traditional white glove for the World Fairs in Chicago in 1893 and St. Louis in 1904. The connection between hot dogs and baseball began as early as 1893 with one Chris von der Ahe, a German immigrant who not only owned the St.Louis Browns but an amusement park as well. Harry M. Stevens Inc. (1889) serviced various sports venues to become known as “the King of Sports Concessions” in the U.S.

In 1916, the celebrities Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante persuaded a German employee named Nathan Handwerker to sell his hot dogs for 5 cents instead of his boss’s 10! When food regulation became a problem (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle” had just appeared!), Nathan saw to it that his hot dog pushers at the ball park wore surgeon’s smocks to reassure customers!

The use of “dog” as a synonym for sausage dates from 1884 amid accusations that since 1845 dog meat was used. In the early 20th century dog meat was common in Germany. According to folklore, “hot” dog was coined by the newspaper cartoonist Thomas Aloysius Dorgan around 1900 alluding to the sale of franks at a New York Giants game. (Are you listening, German relatives? An Irish cartoonist started that custom: it was the era of Finley Peter Dunne, whose Dooley the Irish barkeep kept newspaper readers in stitches at the time).

The earliest known use of “hot dog” was found in the Patterson (N.J.) Press for December 31,1892. It was in a story about a local traveling vendor Thomas Francis Xavier Morris, aka “Hot Dog Morris”.

Somehow or other a frankfurter and a roll seem to go right to the spot where the void is felt the most. The small boy has got on such familiar terms with this sort of lunch that he now refers to it as “hot dog.” “Hey, Mister, give me a hot dog quick,” was the startling order that a rosy-cheeked gamin hurled at the man as a Press reporter stood close by last night. The “hot dog” was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll, a dash of mustard also splashed on to the “dog” with a piece of whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled. (Germans devised and the Irish supervised!)

Hot dogs traditionally use pork and beef. Less expensive brands use chicken and turkey, using low cost mechanically separated poultry. The genre has a high sodium, fat and nitrite contents, linked to health problems. Hot dogs mix meats, spices, binders and fillers in vats with fast moving blades that grind and mix in the same operation. This mix is forced into skin cases for cooking. Most U.S. dogs are skinless. The small intestine of sheep provide most casing. They are precooked before packaging Because an unopened, packaged hot dog can have listeriosis bacteria, it is safer to heat them, especially for pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems. (Indeed, I’m happy I’m reading this history and sociology of the hot dog when I’m 84 instead of 14!)

Parents with small children, beware. A U.S. study found that 17% of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 were caused by hot dogs. So cut the HD in small pieces because emergency doctors say it is almost impossible to dislodge bigger ones from a child’s windpipe. 7-Eleven (for my German readers, those of the hours of the shop’s A.M. opening and P.M. closing) sell the most grilled hot dogs in North America, 100 million yearly. That’s a lot of dog. By the way when a young person shows off in sports or personal relations, we call him/her a hot dog. Hot dogging is mainly an immature pain in the neighbors who must suffer it!

As for Condiments, the U.S. based National Sausage and Hot Dog Council in 2005 found mustard to be the favorite treat (32 percent) ketchup (23), chili con carne (17),relish (9)onions (7). I’m a mustard man: defective ketchup at Holy Rosary Academy wrecked my tongue for good on ketchup.

Outside the U.S. hot dawgs ain’t what they used to be: In New Zealand, it refers to a battered sausage, often on a stick. Our version is called “an American hot dog”. Where there’s a Guinness, there’s a way to shoot for the moon. The world’s longest HD was 179 feet long in a 198 foot bun, prepared by the Shizuoka Meat Producers for the All Japan Bread Association.

This super, un-American HD was the centre piece of a media event in the Akasaka Prince Hotel, Tokyo, on the 50th Anniversary of their Bread Association. Not to be outdone at its own game, Joe Calderone made a $69 HD for his beloved Trudy Tant, assembling truffle oil, duck foie gras, and truffle butter. No report of their full blown romance. (Joe was hot dogging it big that night!)

By the way, Tante U’s dessert was superb—a cake adorned with her homegrown strawberries.

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