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The Perfect Hamburger

TALKING TO MYSELF 28 May 2014  Today, May 28, is National Hamburger Day. It is also the day Maya Angelou has died.  The silly riff I sat down to write about beef seems banal in the face of such news. As recently as last week, Ms. Angelou, age 86, tweeted – YES TWEETED – “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” Hers was the voice of poetry and angels, mine pedestrian and earthbound.

Yet, it is the ordinary that makes life livable, and I can’t help but think that even angels would have salivated over the juicy burgers Daddy cooked in the backyard on our first charcoal grill. We got it, I’m pretty sure, by redeeming Top Value stamps.

“Grilling” in the 1950s was, if not sophisticated, at least trendy, and we reveled in this new-fangled way to entertain. Mother would slather the buns with butter and stick them on the grill, too, an inspired touch that lifted our burgers, made from “baby beeves” raised on our farm, to unprecedented culinary delight. We probably had baked beans or potato salad, also, but I only remember the burgers on the buttery buns, served with a heaping helping of a balmy summer night in the country. Lightening bugs and laughter completed the experience.

In the 1960s, hamburger fast food chains hit the country like tornadoes, dropping down here, here and here, forever changing the landscape. I wish I could say I remember the first McDonalds hamburger I ate, but mostly what I remember about that 1960ish visit to their walk-up stand on Lexington’s New Circle Road are their French fries.  Their burgers, then and now, remain unremarkable in my experience. And what’s up with slapping sesame seeds on buns? They have no taste whatsoever and lodge in random places in the teeth and gut.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve had a really good burger since about 1958 although I’ve eaten every kind that exists, from the cheap fast food varieties to the expensive, gourmet hooty-tooty sort. (My husband still insists that he loves the White Castle sliders, but what I think he tastes is the memory of eating them with his Dad on their infrequent trips from the farm into Louisville.) From time to time, we also try to re-create magical burgers at home.  Our fancy gas grill, however, can’t do the job as well as that cheap charcoal model from the Top Value catalogue. Even when we butter the buns, our burgers turn out to be too dry or too raw.

Maybe it takes a lot of lightening bugs -- and a laughing, hungry kid -- to make a perfect hamburger. 

©Copyright Georgia Green Stamper